Sheikh Salman says FIFA race is duel with Infantino
FIFA presidential frontrunner Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa told AFP on Sunday that only he or Europe’s Gianni Infantino can win the race to become leader of world football.
The Asian Football Confederation president also said any candidate who does not have “a minimum number” of votes should not stay in the contest for the Feb. 26 vote, piling pressure on the other three campaign contenders.
South African media are already speculating that the only African candidate Tokyo Sexwale could withdraw this week, though he denied this to AFP.
Asked who how many candidates had a chance of winning the presidency of the scandal-tainted FIFA, the Bahrain sheikh said: “Realistically for the five, I think two.”
Pressed on who they are, he added: “I think Gianni has the support of the (UEFA) confederation and I think Asia has its candidate. From what I hear, from what I feel, I think its between me and him.”
Infantino is the UEFA general secretary.
The other three candidates are Sexwale from South Africa, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein, a former FIFA vice president, and Jerome Champagne from France, a former FIFA official.
Speaking in English and Arabic, Sheikh Salman said he was increasingly confident of victory.
“When I took the decision to run in the election, I thought I had a good chance.
“And now we are approaching the election date and after all the last contacts with the confederations and the national federations, I am confident and optimistic and I can see that things are improving day by day.”
He added: “From my point of view things are more than good.”
All 209 FIFA member associations will vote at a special congress in Zurich for a successor for Sepp Blatter, who stepped down and was subsequently banned from FIFA, following corruption allegations engulfing football’s governing body.
The sheikh and Infantino are seen as the frontrunners and he hinted that a deal between the two could be possible ahead of the vote.
“You have to leave the door always open, you cannot shut the door on any candidate.”
He was speaking in Doha after attending the finals of the AFC Under 23 championship, which finished on Saturday.
Infantino was also in Qatar over the weekend, as well as Sexwale.
Sheikh Salman added that anyone who had no chance of winning should now consider dropping out of the race.
“Well, I think that, you know, any candidate who feels that he cannot bring, let’s say, a minimum number (of votes), I don’t think he should continue.”
In his election manifesto, he has argued for more than 32 national sides to play at each World Cup and said on Sunday that no more than 40 teams should contest the tournament.
He also reiterated his support for Qatar’s controversial hosting of the tournament in 2022.
During his campaign the sheikh has been criticized by human rights groups who accuse him of involvement in the oppression of pro-democratic demonstrations in 2011 in Bahrain and the use of torture, claims which he denies.
The rival candidates have been on a globetrotting campaign seeking support for their bids to take over FIFA.
The world football body is reeling from US corruption charges against 39 football officials, marketing executives and two companies. Swiss investigators are looking into the attribution of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Blatter is separately under formal investigation in Switzerland for criminal mismanagement over a “disloyal” $2 million payment made to UEFA president Michel Platini. Blatter and Platini were banned from all football activity for eight years by FIFA’s ethics tribunal in December.