Fifa presidential candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa spoke yesterday of the need for change within the organisation – only to then promise the voting member associations their well-remunerated presence on committees would not be reduced.
Five candidates are running to succeed Sepp Blatter, who was voted in on five occasions, including last May, and they made their final pitches to delegates at confederation meetings in Zurich on the eve of today’s vote.
Blatter stepped aside days later amid allegations which led to a six-year ban which he is contesting, prompting the world governing body’s extraordinary congress in the most pivotal period of Fifa’s near-112 year history.
Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al Hussein, Sheikh Salman, Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino, South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale and Jerome Champagne, a former Fifa deputy secretary general from France, are vying for 207 votes from Fifa’s member associations (Kuwait and Indonesia are suspended).
And favourite Sheikh Salman, who strenuously denies alleged involvement in the torture and imprisonment of pro-democracy demonstrators during the Bahrain uprisings in 2011, hinted the status quo would remain under his leadership, despite reforms designed to streamline the number of committees from 26 to nine. The reforms are to be voted on as a package, but disputed elements can be extracted and discussed separately.
“I hope from [Friday] there will be a new page and everybody should work together for the benefit and future of football,” Sheikh Salman, the Asian Football Confederation president, told delegates at the CONCACAF confederation congress.
“At a time of crisis you need someone with a proven track record and everyone can see in Asia we have developed that in the past three years, and the stability we have brought to Asia we hope we can bring that to Fifa and the rest of the confederations.
“Bringing down committees from 26 to nine is an issue. I can promise you the number of committee meetings in Fifa won’t change, whether through working groups, ad-hoc committees or whatever it is.”
Fifa has urged its members to adopt the reforms, which address issues of governance, accountability, transparency and diversity, in full in a vote ahead of the presidential election. To pass, 75 per cent of votes must be received.
All five candidates attended the venue for the extraordinary congresses of CONCACAF and Oceania, pitching for the 46 votes from those regions.
Sheikh Salman again insisted rival candidate Infantino’s plan to give $5 million to member associations was not feasible.
“I’m not ready to mortgage Fifa’s future in winning an election,” Sheikh Salman said.
Infantino responded in a letter to member associations.
He wrote: “I am a person who keeps his promises. The increases in development and other assistance funds outlined in my manifesto can easily be put in place considering that I am proposing reinvesting back into football development only around $1.2 billion out of over $5.5bn revenues.
“Very significant savings can easily be made in Fifa’s costs so that the amount for reinvestment in football I am proposing can be safely delivered.
“This is what Fifa should be about – football development! Not politics, political intrigues or personal attacks.”
He had earlier told Americas delegates at the CONCACAF congress that his record at UEFA proved savings and cost adaptation measures were possible.
“We don’t have to throw money out of window we have to invest it in football projects,” he said.
“If we stop doing politics and start doing football the world will admire us.”
Prince Ali reiterated his belief it was wrong to make pacts with the voters. The Jordan Football Association chief, said: “I am the only candidate who respects the fact that this is a secret ballot. I have not asked any country or any FA to come out and publicly declare for me.
“It’s not a matter of making deals. I think that is exactly what has been wrong with Fifa in the past.”
Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid activist who was imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, insisted he would not be stepping aside, despite few member associations declaring their intentions to vote for him.
The majority of Sexwale’s home confederation expected to back Sheikh Salman but Sexwale said: “I’m here. I have come this far.”