Five to fight it out for Fifa top job
Our writer profiles the five Fifa Presidential canditates, from the most-likely to the outsiders.
- Age: 45
- Nationality: Swiss-Italian
- Current position: Uefa general secretary since 2009
Football fans will remember him more for drawing out the lottery balls during Champions League draws.
But Gianni Infantino is more than that. He is the man who has toiled behind the scenes to make European football tick.
His name wouldn't have been in the hat for the presidential election had it not been for Uefa president Michel Platini's fall from grace.
Infantino is one of two frontrunners for the Fifa hot seat, alongside Sheikh Salman Ibrahim Al-Khalifa.
Initially believed to be trailing Sheikh Salman in the election race, the 45-year-old Infantino is now tipped for a "surprise victory", following his claim earlier this week that more than half of Africa's 54 member associations - the biggest representation among the voting nations - will defy their confederation to back him.
Bloc voting among confederations was a common practice in the past but, this time around, the regional football bodies appear to be more fragmented in their support for the candidates.
If Infantino's assertion turns out to be true, then the balance might swing decisively in his favour, since the Confederation of African Football had earlier made public their backing for Sheik Salman, which in turn made the Bahraini the early favourite.
Counting against Infantino is the criticism of Uefa's handling of match-fixing scandals on the continent - Turkey in 2011 and Greece in 2015 - with detractors believing that the perpetrators got off too lightly.
Pushing for the World Cup to be held in a region rather than in just one or two countries.
Promises a greater share of Fifa's reserves to member countries.
In favour of expanding the World Cup to include 40 teams instead of the current 32.
WHAT HE SAYS:
"My manifesto is based on the need for reform and also for a Fifa that genuinely serves the interests of all 209 national associations, big or small, and that puts football and football development at the top of its agenda. If elected, I would lead that change in partnership with all who want to see a Fifa worthy of governing the world's No. 1 sport with dignity and respect."
Our writer profiles the five Fifa presidential candidates
BETWEEN THESE TWO? Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman (above) are believed to be leading the race for Fifa’s top post. PHOTOS: REUTERS
SHEIKH SALMAN IBRAHIM AL-KHALIFA
- Age: 50
- Nationality: Bahraini
- Current position: President of the Asian Football Confederation and Fifa executive committee member since 2013
A member of the Bahrain royal family, he was a youth player for his country's top-tier side Riffa Club before deciding to focus on his studies.
The 50-year-old was going to back Michel Platini's bid to become president, until the Frenchman's attempt was cut short by a ban.
A Manchester United fan who enjoys the sport of wild-boar hunting, his influence among the footballing world can be seen by the early show of public support by Africa and Asia, two confederations which account for 100 votes.
But Infantino's claim that he has won over support from over half of Africa has eroded Sheikh Salman's status as the frontrunner.
The Asia chief has also been dogged by allegations of human rights abuses since he announced his intention to head Asian football in 2013.
Human rights groups alleged that the then-president of Bahrain's football association headed a committee which identified 150 athletes (including some of the best players from the national team) believed to have taken part in pro-democracy demonstrations five years ago.
Some were said to have been tortured and imprisoned.
Sheikh Salman has, however, denied those allegations.
Earlier this month, he signed a pledge prepared by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and three other organisations to quell the criticism.
But, the pledge was first amended to remove some references, which include the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and abuses against women and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.
- To split Fifa into separate football and business entities to weed out corruption.
- Will assume role of non-executive president if he takes office.
- Does not want a salary, but will publish those of senior officials.
WHAT HE SAYS:
"Nothing short of a complete organisational overhaul and the introduction of stringent control mechanisms will allow us to relaunch Fifa in its entirety."
PRINCE ALI AL HUSSEIN
- Age: 40
- Nationality: Jordanian
- Current positions: President of Jordan Football Association and West Asian Football Federation
Prince Ali Al Hussein, a former Jordanian special forces soldier, is not new to the Fifa presidential election.
Last year, he stood against Blatter, but was beaten 133 to 73 in votes.
In theory, the experience should give him a headstart this time around, but it hasn't.
Most of his backers last year were from Uefa, who will be rooting for Gianni Infantino today.
Neither does Prince Ali have the support from his own continent, the majority of whom are expected to vote for Sheikh Salman.
But he may have a say in who becomes president, if the voting goes to a second round as expected.
His rift with Sheikh Salman, who caused him to lose his seat on the Fifa executive committee as Asia's representative, means that he may well direct his first-round voters to Infantino in the subsequent round.
Earlier in the week, Prince Ali was reprimanded by the head of Fifa's ad-hoc electoral committee for questioning Sheikh Salman's role in the torture and imprisonment of those involved in Bahrain's democracy protests in 2011 - an allegation which the latter has long denied.
Recently, Prince Ali also grabbed the headlines for calling for the postponement of the election, after Fifa blocked his request to use transparent voting booths.
- To introduce 21st-century governance.
- Pledge full support to authorities investigating Fifa and release Michael Garcia's report in its entirety.
- Set up an independent oversight group to be headed by former United Nations general secretary Kofi Annan.
WHAT HE SAYS:
"I'm there to serve football and really take it into the 21st century. I have a new way of thinking. Also, I will be open to the world as well as to really work on what's important and that is the development of the sport across the globe."
JEROME CHAMPAGNE (above)
- Age: 57
- Nationality: Frenchman
- Current position: Consultant in international football
Jerome Champagne worked at Fifa for 11 years and was also Blatter's 2002 election campaign manager.
The St Etienne and Barcelona supporter was a former Fifa deputy general secretary until he was fired by Blatter, although the two still stay in contact.
The 57-year-old's bid to run for presidency last year came to a premature end after he failed to get the five letters of support required from member nations.
This time, he managed to get eight nominations, although his campaign has never really taken flight.
His links to Blatterhave not helped his cause.
He was quoted as saying last December: "Whatever happened in the past, I'm sure that Mr Blatter will remain in history and be better judged by history for what he did for football rather than the media do today."
Despite visiting plenty of countries to promote himself, he is not expected to get more than 10 votes, although he has been publicly endorsed by Brazilian football legend Pele.
He has complained about the number of observers allowed into the hall for the election, claiming that they are working for his rivals.
- Against the expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams, instead calling for Europe to give up some of their spots to Africa.
- To redistribute Fifa's wealth so that the richest member nations get the same grants as the poorest ones.
WHAT HE SAYS:
"At a time when Fifa needs more than ever an open debate about its future, its reform and the reform of football, we are witnessing the electoral campaign being dominated by controversy and deals made behind closed doors."
Fifa has been embroiled in corruption allegations for years.
The things finally came to a head on May 27 last year, as Fifa officials were preparing to attend the 65th Congress.
As a result of a long-running FBI investigation, seven officials were arrested in dawn raids at the five-star Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich.
Later that day, together with another seven men consisting of Fifa officials and sports executives, they were charged with corruption.
Two days later, Sepp Blatter convincingly defeated Prince Ali Al Hussein to stay as president, a post he had held since 1998.
But, on June 2, he announced his decision to step down.
Things would take a turn for the worse.
In October, Blatter, along with Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke and Uefa president Michel Platini, were suspended provincially for 90 days.
Blatter and Platini were eventually suspended from all football-related activity for six years (reduced from the initial eight years), while Valcke was slapped with a 12-year ban.
Later in the year, the US would also indict more football officials in the growing scandal.
Will there be drama again today?
Some officials may be feeling edgy in Zurich.
After all, the three previous raids took place when the Fifa executive committee met. - GARY LIM
- Age: 62
- Nationality: South African
- Current position: Mining tycoon
A former political prisoner for his anti-apartheid activities, Tokyo Sexwale was imprisoned for 13 years (1977-1990) and was at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.
Not a prominent name in world football until he announced his candidacy at this election, Sexwale, who served on various Fifa committees, including racism and discrimination, and media, said that he was persuaded by some people in Fifa to come forward.
The Liverpool fan has championed for a black leader at Fifa, but his campaign has failed to gather any traction.
Despite being the only candidate from Africa, the 62-year-old is not backed by the Confederation of African Football.
The mining magnate and politician, who bought an island off Mozambique for a reported £45 million ($88.3m) in 2008, has said that he is "open to negotiation and alliances" with his rivals.
Four days before the election, he took Gianni Infantino on a tour of Robben Island.
The other three candidates had turned down his invitation, he added.
Overall, his campaign has lacked focus and intensity.
According to some reports, it is not a certainty that the national association of his home country will vote for him.
- To fight for more World Cup spots for Africa.
- Increase revenue for national football associations through commerical shirt sponsorship of national teams
WHAT HE SAYS:
"We are here about Fifa. Fifa is a house broken and needs to be repaired."