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FIFA’s presidential candidates stepping up campaigns as election approaches

Photo credit: AFP.

Photo credit: AFP.

The five candidates to take over the FIFA presidency from the banned Sepp Blatter stepped up the frantic hunt for votes Tuesday as the campaign entered the final month. FIFA sent a formal notice to the 209 member associations on Tuesday confirming that Prince Ali bin al Hussein, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa, Gianni Infantino, Tokyo Sexwale and Jerome Champagne would take part in the Feb. 26 vote in Zurich.

“The Ad-hoc Electoral Committee has formally admitted and declared the candidates eligible for the election of the office of FIFA president at the extraordinary FIFA Congress,” said the letter.

The world body has faced major pressure since US and Swiss authorities launched major investigations into FIFA and Blatter, 79, was banned for eight years for misconduct.

While Sheikh Salman, head of the Asian Football Confederation, and Infantino, the UEFA general secretary, are seen as the frontrunners, all five are lobbying hard for votes in a races in which many observers say a surprise is still possible.

All have concentrated on the need to clean up football, while making rival proposals to increase the World Cup and give more of FIFA’s riches to national associations.

Photo credit: AFP.

Photo credit: AFP.

Sheikh Salman, who should get a majority of the AFC’s 46 votes as well as many of Africa’s 54, said Monday that he could invite Infantino, or English Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore ,to be FIFA secretary general if he wins.

“So far there’s no agreement and no deal but let’s see what happens in the next few days,” Sheikh Salman told Sky Sport television of his contacts with Infantino.

The Bahraini official has been under pressure however over accusations of involvement in a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in the Gulf state.

The sheikh said he could guarantee “one million percent” that no athlete had been abused.

– Jet-set campaign –

The Sheikh, like most of the other candidates, withdrew from a proposed FIFA debate before the European parliament on Wednesday in a sign of the growing intensity of the campaign.

Sheikh Salman (pictured) could invite Gianni Infantino to be FIFA general secretary if he is elected FIFA president. Photo credit: AFP.

Sheikh Salman (pictured) could invite Gianni Infantino to be FIFA general secretary if he is elected FIFA president. Photo credit: AFP.

Infantino and Prince Ali, a former FIFA vice president from Jordan, were at a South American confederation, CONMEBOL, congress in Asuncion on Tuesday seeking support.

The confederation is to elect a new president. Three of its former leaders are among 39 officials and businessmen and two companies facing US charges over more than $200 million in bribes paid for marketing and broadcasting deals.

CONMEBOL are expected to back Infantino, a Swiss national who has been right hand man to UEFA boss Michel Platini, who was banned with Blatter last month. The European confederation, UEFA, says most of its 53 members will also back Infantino.

But the vote is secret which has encouraged some of the outsiders to step up their bid.

Prince Ali, the only challenger against Blatter in an election in May last year, has toured the world seeking support. The Jordanian royal has made a complaint to the electoral committee about a cooperation accord made by the Asian and African confederations this month which he indicated was a bid by Sheikh Salman to secure African support. The sheikh has strongly denied the allegation.

African candidate Sexwale, a former Robben Island prisoner with Nelson Mandela turned business tycoon and politician, has faced criticism in his native South Africa over his lackluster campaign. He has called for a ban on sponsors’ names appearing on national team shirts. But Sexwale has traveled much less than his rivals.

Champagne, a former FIFA official and French diplomat, said the election would be “complicated” and would “only be decided in the final moments.” Calling for greater commitment to reforms, he told French radio on Tuesday that “some candidates are making totally demagogic proposals, especially financial and playing a 40 team World Cup.”

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