Candidates wait for FIFA to validate presidential bids

Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa
Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa

LAUSANNE: The eight candidates to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president were still waiting to have their bids validated by the electoral committee of world football’s governing body yesterday after the deadline for hopefuls to come forward passed. FIFA’s electoral committee was set to meet yesterday to study each bid and the integrity of the those running, but the official list of candidates for the February 26 election may not be made public until today, a source close to FIFA told AFP.

Meanwhile, one of the contenders, Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa of Bahrain moved to deny claims he had been involved in the torture of footballers. And another hopeful, the 62-year-old South African anti-apartheid campaigner Tokyo Sexwale, launched his campaign as he promised to bring “transparency and accountability” to the scandal-tainted governing body of world football.

Sexwale and the Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman, the head of the Asian Football Confederation, confirmed their bids on Monday as UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino also entered the running to blow the race wide open. The 49-year-old Sheikh Salman can expect widespread support from the vast Asian Confederation, but he has already had to defend himself against criticism by human rights campaigners who have accused him of involvement in the arrest and torture of footballers when he was head of the Bahrain Football Association. “These are false, nasty lies that have been repeated again and again in the past and the present,” he told the BBC in an interview. “I cannot deny something that I haven’t done. “Such accusations are not just damaging, it’s really hurting. Some people have agenda on their table.” Sheikh Salman was head of the Bahrain FA in 2011 when scores of people were killed as security forces in the country put down mass Shialed protests calling for reforms. Rights groups say he helped identify players involved in the protests and did nothing to protect them from abuses.

Sexwale, who was once jailed alongside Nelson Mandela, serving 13 years of an 18-year sentence on Robben Island on terrorism charges, vowed to “follow the money” to rid football’s ruling body of corruption after recent scandals. “What has been broken in FIFA is the ability to follow money,” he told a press conference. “It is about good financial management, control systems, making sure things are done and there is a lot of transparency and accountability. “That is what I would like to bring to FIFA,” added Sexwale, now a politician and millionaire businessman who serves on FIFA’s anti-racism and anti-discrimination committee.

Infantino’s decision to stand, and the backing he has received from UEFA, has cast doubt over Michel Platini’s campaign to replace his former ally Blatter, who announced in June that he would step down just days after being re-elected for a fifth term. The UEFA president is currently serving a 90- day ban as investigations continue into a 1.8 million euro ($2 million) payment received from FIFA in 2011 without a written contract.

Erstwhile favorite Platini officially remains a contender pending an examination of his candidacy when his ban ends on January 5. But Swiss lawyer Infantino’s announcement casts doubt over Platini’s support within UEFA and poses the question as to whether Infantino is being presented as a Plan B in case the former France star is prevented from standing. FIFA’s electoral committee must judge the integrity of all candidates, meaning Platini’s bid could be compromised by his ban. Other confirmed candidates include the Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the 39-year-old brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah who was the only adversary to Blatter at the previous election in May this year and can boast that he took the veteran Swiss to a second round of voting before withdrawing. Then there is 57-year-old French former diplomat Jerome Champagne, who spent 11 years working for FIFA between 1999 and 2010. Unlike his previous bid in May, he has managed to get the necessary five signatures from national associations. David Nakhid, the former Trinidad and Tobago captain, and Liberian FA chief Musa Bility have also entered the race.—AFP

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