FIFA presidential front-runners in final pitches for votes
Chuck Penfold, Zurich
February 25, 2016
A day before the FIFA Congress meets to elect a new president, there is a consensus about who is the favorite. More important than who succeeds Sepp Blatter could be a reform package that will also be up for approval.
Most Zurich residents appeared to be going about their usual business as Thursday morning snow turned to afternoon rain, but there was no mistaking the fact that media from all over the world had descended upon the Swiss banking capital.
At the accreditation center, one Japanese journalist questioned why he wasn't getting the television pass that he had applied for, while a German colleague was told politely but firmly – in English – that the FIFA computers had no record of her having been accredited at all. A trio of Polish journalists were told they didn't have the right paperwork either, which sent them scurrying off, apparently looking to argue their case to a higher power in a different FIFA office.
While such erstwhile unlucky journalists pondered how to resolve their accreditation issues, some of the candidates to succeed banned longtime FIFA President Sepp Blatter used the 24 hours leading up to the election to make last-minute pitches for votes.
Sheikh Salman the favorite
The general consensus is that Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa is the front-runner, with both the Asian and African confederations having endorsed his candidacy, despite allegations that he was involved in human rights abuses during a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in his native Bahrain in 2011.
"Will it be Salman in the end?" one British journalist was overheard asking, while having a coffee in the media center of the Hallenstadion, where Friday's vote will take place. "I did the maths last night, and I think it will," his colleague said. "The question is: How long will it take?"
Sheikh Salman though, wasn't taking anything for granted, knowing that there are also pundits out there who say the race between him and the other front-runner, UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino, is still too close to call.
Salman made the rounds of the regional confederations, which met separately in Zurich on Thursday, hoping to swing some undecided or undeclared votes in his favor. However, Infantino, who continued to express confidence that he will take Friday's contest, not only did the same thing, but he also published an open letter to all of the FIFA member associations, asking for their support
The one confederation that got short shrift from Infantino was his own, from which he is expected to draw the majority of the votes anyway. Infantino spoke for just over five minutes, saying he would leave most of his talking until Friday, when he, like each of the other four candidates, will have 15 minutes to address the delegates from the 207 national associations that are eligible to vote. Also in the race are Frenchman Jerome Champagne, Jordanian Prince Ali bin-Hussein, and Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa, but these three are not thought to have enough support to make a serious challenge.
Reforms approval urged
Issa Hayatou, who took over as FIFA's interim president when Blatter was initially handed a 90-day ban amid corruption allegations last autumn, used the last day of campaigning to urge the associations to pass a package of reforms that are also up for approval on Friday.
"I urge each of you to support the reforms in full here this week, and then to implement them to their entirety at home,“ Haytou said in an identical speech delivered at the separate confederation meetings, the text of which was published on the FIFA website. "This will send a strong message that we have listened and that we are taking the action necessary to give football the foundation, and protection, it needs for the future."
The proposed reforms, which, among other things, would impose term limits on a weakened presidency, are seen by many as being more important than who wins the election.
Friday's Congress promises to be a long one, with the extended list of reforms to be voted on before the presidential election, which is expected to go at least two rounds.