ZURICH, Feb 24, (AFP): FIFA has confirmed that suspended members Indonesia and Kuwait remain barred from voting in the body’s presidential election on Friday, in what could be a blow to leading candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa.
Sheik Salman, a royal from Bahrain, heads the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which includes Indonesia and Kuwait.
The sheikh has been endorsed by the AFC’s executive committee and was eyeing block vote support from the continent in the closely fought race against his main challenger Gianni Infantino, the acting head of European football.
The two-thirds majority needed to secure a first-round victory seems unlikely for any candidate, meaning the poll could go to at least two rounds of voting.
Only a simple majority is required to win from the second round.
With the two suspensions, 207 FIFA members are cleared to cast ballots at the congress in Zurich.
At a meeting on Wednesday, FIFA’s executive committee “recommended that the Extraordinary Congress decide on Friday that both these cases be dealt with at the next ordinary Congress in Mexico,” in May, a FIFA statement said.
This means that FIFA’s top brass have decided the two bans should remain in force, with the issue to be revisited in three months.
When the congress meets on Friday, any country can call for further debate on either Indonesia or Kuwait.
But, following the executive committee decision, it is highly unlikely further debate could lead to either country being reinstated and cleared to vote.
Indonesia was suspended from international football in May after the government attempted to replace the country’s football association.
Kuwait was banned in October because of alleged government interference in the Gulf state’s sport.
A FIFA appeal committee on Wednesday reduced bans against Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini to six years but maintained they were still guilty of ethics breaches.
The appeal result was announced as UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino and Asian football leader Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa stepped up their rivalry to take over as head of football’s scandal-tainted world body in a vote on Friday.
The bans against Blatter, FIFA president for 17 years, and UEFA president Platini were reduced from eight years to six by the appeal committee.
Both were found guilty of conflicts of interest when Blatter approved a $2 million payment to Platini in 2011 for consultancy work done without a contract a decade earlier.
French football legend Platini had been favourite to take over from Blatter but the ban demolished his hopes.
“Mr Platini’s and Mr Blatter’s appeals are dismissed,” said an ethics committee statement.
But it did determine that the FIFA ethics tribunal did not take into account “some strong mitigating factors” when determining the eight year sanction.
“The appeal committee considered that Mr Platini’s and Mr Blatter’s activities and the services they had rendered to FIFA, UEFA and football in general over the years should deserve appropriate recognition as a mitigating factor.”
Blatter and Platini again overshadowed FIFA’s new attempt to turn the page on its scandal-plagued recent past with Friday’s election. Police raided a FIFA congress last May just before Blatter was elected to a fifth term. He announced he would stand down four days later.
Now 39 football officials and executives face charges in the United States over more than $200 million in bribes paid for soccer deals.
In the absence of Platini, Infantino and Sheikh Salman, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have led a five man race to become the new president.
The battle has been seen as too close to call in the final stages. But the election took a new twist when Prince Ali bin al Hussein went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Monday seeking an order to force FIFA to use transparent voting booths. The prince’s lawyers had said they could seek a vote delay.
The CAS said the demand by the Jordanian prince, a former FIFA vice-president, had been “rejected”.
And Prince Ali, who had paid for transparent voting booths to be sent to Zurich, backed off from a move to delay the election. “The only positive aspect of today’s ruling is it that the election will now go forward as planned, and the media will be closely watching for any evidence that anyone is photographing their ballot,” the prince said in a statement.
The FIFA vote is meant to be secret but Prince Ali and another candidate, Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA executive, had raised suspicions that delegates would photograph their ballots to prove they had kept promises to back selected candidates.
The AFC, with 47 votes, and 54-member Confederation for African Football (CAF) have both said they will back Sheikh Salman, a 50-year-old senior member of Bahrain’s royal family.
But while embarking on final lobbying in Zurich, Infantino told AFP he believed he has swayed African votes in his favour. Infantino went on a whistle-stop African tour before heading to the congress.
“I am confident and I have reason to be even more confident,” Infantino said. “The discussions I have had with the presidents of African federations have been very convincing.”
Infantino said he had a reform programme with “very concrete proposals, notably for Africa.”
Infantino hs vowed to moe than double aid to FIFA’s 209 members to $5 million each over four years from about $2 million now.