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Reformers or good neighbours? Australia's choice in FIFA election will help cement its reputation

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Australia is an undecided voter heading into next week’s FIFA presidential election, balancing the twin priorities of reforming the troubled world football body and maintaining relations within Asia.

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Five candidates are vying to succeed disgraced leader Sepp Blatter in the February 26 ballot in Zurich, Switzerland.

The three with a realistic chance of success are Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, European football head Gianni Infantino and previous challenger Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan.

Under previous chairman Frank Lowy, Australia came out publicly and strongly for the reformist Prince Ali against Blatter in last May’s election.

Prince Ali lost a two-man contest to Blatter 133-73, withdrawing from a second vote to hand Blatter a fifth term in charge.

The Swiss then sensationally resigned less than a week after his election win, and has since been banned from football for eight years by the body he once led.

Blatter’s departure has not cleared the way for the Jordanian, and nor has Australia has given a continuation of support to him this time around.

New chairman Steven Lowy has other considerations, and will be treading more carefully in the days before the vote.

Failing to vote for Sheikh Salman, who has the backing of the AFC’s executive committee, could be seen as an affront to the consensus-style decision-making of Asia.

Australia is keen to work within and not around its Asian neighbours, making FFA chief executive David Gallop’s trip to AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur later this week a crucial sounding exercise.

Sheikh Salman’s candidacy, while popular with Asian and African nations, is not unsullied.

He continues to be dogged by allegations he helped to identify protesters who were then tortured in Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising of 2011.

As well as being a good neighbour, FFA is out to continue its role as a reforming force in the world body, a task performed by our representative at FIFA’s top table, Moya Dodd.

Executive Committee member Dodd has championed changes that are likely to be passed in Zurich at the same meeting.

They include term limits, integrity checks and handing more decision-making posts to women.

The chairman and chief executive will represent Australia in Switzerland next week, where a final decision on Australia’s vote will be reached after meeting with the candidates.

-AAP

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