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FIFA presidential candidates rain down on South America

All four FIFA presidential candidates have attended the South American Football Confederation general congress in Paraguay, kick-starting the race for world football's top job. Sepp Blatter, though, remains favorite.

Sepp Blatter, Michael van Praag, Luis Figo and Ali bin Al Hussein have all been in Paraguay on the first stops of their FIFA presidential campaign trails, conducting talks with the South American Football Confederation.

A decision on who the federation would support come May 29 when the FIFA presidential vote takes place, was not formally made at CONMEBOL's general congress in Paraguay after the 10-nation governing body heard proposals from the candidates.

Blatter, who has headed FIFA since 1998, is bidding for a fifth term in the vote among the 209 member countries at the FIFA Congress in May. The other candidates are FIFA Vice President

Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan

, Dutch federation head Michael van Praag, and former

Portugal midfielder Luis Figo.

"I had a meeting with the presidents of the (regional) federations and the President of CONMEBOL and I have a good feeling about it," Van Praag told reporters.

"They didn't disclose what they are going to do and I can understand that because there are still two months to go so they have time to come together again and make up their minds," he told international new agency reporters.

Michael van Praag

67-year-old Michael van Praag used to be the chairman of Ajax Amsterdam.

Agendas pushed

Van Praag, president of Dutch football's governing body KNVB, is proposing changes including a 40-team World Cup tournament, adding one nation from each confederation plus the title holders.

Speaking to CONMEBOL members, Blatter took the opportunity to urge clubs and national federations to clamp down on racist fans.

"We have a serious problem of racism and discrimination," Blatter said. "We have the rules, but we lack the courage to stop this all over the world."

Players of African descent are routinely jeered by fans across South America. This also happens in Brazil, which has a large Afro-Brazilian population.

Despite the presence of all three challengers to the status quo, CONMEBOL has strong ties to Blatter, who reportedly has already secured the support of the confederation heads of Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Although they do not have votes themselves, they can influence the national federations and many experts think the South America heads will also swing in behind Blatter in time for the vote in May.

Blatter calls on Iran to let women into matches

Separately, Blatter used an article in FIFA's weekly magazine on Friday to urge Iran to end its stadium ban on women fans. During the Asian Cup in Australia, the support for the Iranian team included thousands of women who could be seen cheering on the team without dress restrictions, in scenes not possible on home soil due to local laws.

Blatter says he raised the issue in a meeting with Iran president Hassan Rouhani in November 2013.

"(I) came away with the impression that this intolerable situation could change over the medium term," he wrote. "However, nothing has happened (and) this cannot continue. Hence, my appeal to the Iranian authorities: open the nation's football stadiums to women."

pwh/apc, al (AP, Reuters)

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