Delegates from more than 200 countries will elect a new president on Friday, Swiss time, to succeed disgraced Sepp Blatter, two days after the ousted supremo and European soccer chief Michel Platini lost their appeals against bans for ethics violations.
Whoever takes over from Blatter, who ran FIFA for 17 years like a globe-trotting head-of-state, will inherit a very different job with a focus on crisis management, after dozens of international soccer officials were indicted in the United States last year for racketeering, money-laundering and bribery.
African countries make up more than a quarter of the 207 football associations eligible to vote.
On the final day of campaigning, there were sharply conflicting versions of how they would cast their ballots.
While the vice-president of their continental federation said virtually all would back Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, several delegates have confided the African vote could be split.
Switzerland’s Gianni Infantino has said he is confident of winning more than half the African votes, while Liberian soccer chief Musa Bility predicted 27 of them would go to Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein.
“The world is waiting and watching – this is the biggest milestone in the history of FIFA. It will decide if FIFA goes ahead as we want or if it spirals down,” Prince Ali told delegates.
South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale described FIFA as “broken” and a damaged brand, though he also referred to some of those felled in the scandal as “friends we have lost”.
Infantino repeated his promise to offer each of FIFA’s members $US5 million to invest in the sport over four years, more than doubling the $US2 million each federation got from 2011-14.
He said this could be achieved “easily” by tackling the cost structure of FIFA.
Bahrain’s Salman, who along with Infantino is seen as a front-runner, was more cautious, speaking of a ‘realistic’ increase in funding.
“For me, if the numbers are right, we can increase – but I am not ready to mortgage FIFA’s future in winning an election.”
French outsider Jerome Champagne took a shot at Infantino’s globe-trotting campaign by saying the election had been “unbalanced”.
“I did not have a private jet to visit you, take a photo and then tweet and say I have got the endorsement,” he said to laughter from delegates.
The two favourites were both upbeat.
“I am feeling good and very positive. The support I am receiving fills me with confidence,” Infantino said.
A spokesman for his Bahraini rival said: “Sheikh Salman is very confident about tomorrow’s vote.”
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