It's Sheikh Salman vs Infantino

It's Sheikh Salman vs Infantino

The five men vying for the leadership of world soccer made their final eve-of-vote pitches on Thursday, outlining competing visions for the future of governing body FIFA as it tries to recover from the worst corruption scandal in its history.

Delegates from more than 200 countries will elect a new president on Friday to succeed Sepp Blatter of Switzerland, two days after Blatter 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.

"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," said Jordanian candidate Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein.

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".

Swiss candidate Gianni Infantino repeated his promise to offer each of FIFA's members $5 million to invest in the sport over a four-year period -- more than double the $2.05 million per federation provided from 2011-14. He said this could be achieved "easily" by tackling the cost structure of FIFA.

Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, 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 told Reuters in an email while travelling between meetings. A spokesman for his Bahraini rival said: "Sheikh Salman is very confident about tomorrow's vote."

Meanwhile, an AFP poll of world football's members highlighted complex political manoeuvring and uncertainty surrounding Friday's vote.

AFP contacted the 209 national associations in football's troubled world body to ask which of the five candidates they would back.

Some gave an answer and changed their mind. Some said they are not certain to vote. Kuwait and Indonesia will almost certainly not vote anyway as they are suspended by FIFA.

In total, 161, or 77 percent of federations, replied to the survey, providing a tantalising glimpse of voting intentions.

Sixty-eight declared allegiance to Infantino and 28 sided with Sheikh Salman.

The apparent gap in support between the two candidates should be treated with caution. European associations instructed to back Infantino by UEFA were more ready to reply than those in Asia and Africa who have come out in favour of the Bahrain Sheikh.

Only four federations publicly backed Prince Ali bin al Hussein, a former FIFA vice president from Jordan. His campaign hopes to get significantly more.

None openly pledged votes to the two remaining candidates in the Zurich run-off - Jerome Champagne of France and South Africa's Tokyo Sexwale.

In total 61 federations refused to declare their hand in the vote to lead football out of the scandal-mired Sepp Blatter-era. That high number suggests there will be intrigue and late night discussions before Friday's decision.

Agencies

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