Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa today officially declared they will stand to replace Sepp Blatter as President of the FIFA, lodging their candidatures just hours before the final deadline.
European football’s governing body UEFA unanimously agreed to back Infantino, its current general secretary, while Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Sheikh Salman had been widely tipped to stand and will receive backing from his continent.
Infantino, a multilingual lawyer, has been put forward by UEFA’s Executive Committee to replace his Swiss compatriot Sepp Blatter at the top of the world football tree.
His candidature follows the collapse of UEFA President Michel Platini’s bid, after the Frenchman was suspended for 90 days in the wake of a supposed “disloyal” payment made to him by Blatter.
A statement from the UEFA Executive Committee said today: “The forthcoming election for a new FIFA President represents a crucial moment in the governance of the game and the future of FIFA itself.
“We believe that Gianni Infantino has all of the qualities required to tackle the major challenges ahead and to lead the organisation on a path of reform to restore FIFA’s integrity and credibility.
“Gianni has done a great job at UEFA, has a proven track record as a top class administrator and built positive relations with football stakeholders around the globe.
“He has been a long-time advocate of the need for change and renewed development at FIFA and would bring a refreshing and informed voice to the top table of football’s world governing body.
“We are delighted that Gianni has agreed to stand and he knows that he has our full support in his campaign to become FIFA President.
“He is in the process of submitting the required nominations and will issue a statement on his candidacy later today.”
Meanwhile, reports that Sheikh Salman had officially submitted his candidature for the Presidency surfaced in his home country, Bahrain, today and have now been confirmed.
He was widely expected to run after claiming last week that several senior footballing officials had given him their backing, although his campaign hit an early stumbling block when the International Union of Trade Confederations (ITUC) expressed “deep concern” about him standing to potentially replace Blatter.
Sheikh Salman, AFC President since 2013, has been accused of being complicit in the arrests and torturing of footballers and other athletes in Bahrain following a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2011, sitting on a committee which identified 150 sportspeople who had taken part in the demonstrations.
The accusations, which he denies, cast a shadow over his bid to take over at the head of world football’s governing body and prompted the ITUC to declare his candidacy as “not credible”.
“Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president, has today informed the AFC Executive Committee that he has put his name forward in the FIFA Presidential Election 2016,” read an AFC statement.
“Sheikh Salman has assured the AFC Executive Committee, who offered him overwhelming support, and the 47 AFC Member Associations, that his campaign will be entirely self-financed and that he will not use the AFC’s resources, human or otherwise, in the election.”
Banned Korean Chung Mong-joon has officially withdrawn from the race ©Getty Images
The pair become the seventh and eighth candidates for the FIFA Presidency following South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid campaigner who was once imprisoned alongside the late Nelson Mandela but who has been closely linked to Blatter, announcing his intention to run yesterday.
Jordanian Football Association President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who lost out to the Swiss earlier this year, is also running, as is Frenchman Jérôme Champagne, who attempted to enter this year’s race but failed to secure the required nominations.
Former Trinidad and Tobago player David Nakhid is in contention, as well as Liberian Football Association head Musa Bility, with the deadline for any further submissions due at midnight tonight.
The election is due to be held at an Extraordinary FIFA Congress in Zurich on February 26.
Platini, who was told he could not stand should his suspension remain in place by today’s deadline, appears to have little hope of succeeding Blatter, who was also suspended in wake of the “disloyal” payment probe,
This is despite FIFA’s Ethics Committee pledging to review his situation should sanctions be lifted before the election.
South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon, meanwhile, has officially withdrawn from the race after his own six-year ban from football by the FIFA Ethics Committee.
He was found guilty of infringing ethics rules in relation to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process, but denied wrongdoing and was attempting to have his ban lifted in the Swiss courts by today’s deadline to allow him to stand.
These efforts proved unsuccessful, although he has remained defiant.
“Even though I can no longer stand for FIFA President, there is much left for me to do,” he said.
“I will continue to work with all those who love football to bring about legitimate changes from within FIFA.
“As someone who loves football, I will continue to speak out frankly about FIFA’s problems.”