PARIS, February 25 – Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa easily lead the race to become FIFA president, but 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 to replace Sepp Blatter.
Some gave an answer and changed their mind. Some said they are not certain to vote. Kuwait and Indonesia will almost certainly not vote 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.
Despite a multitude of attempts, noone answered the phone at the Chinese Football Association. An official answered the phone at the North Korean federation but said the vote was “secret”
Sixty-eight federations declared allegiance to Infantino, who only joined the race after his suspended UEFA boss Michel Platini was forced to pull out, and 28 sided with Sheikh Salman, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
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.
– Zurich intrigue –
That high number suggests the luxury Zurich hotels favoured by FIFA delegates will be awash with intrigue and late night discussions in the run up to Friday’s decision day with some federations likely to ignore the instructions of their umbrella confederations.
Four of the six confederations have instructed their members to vote for a single candidate.
Swiss-Italian national Infantino has the support of UEFA (53 votes), South America’s Conmebol with 10 votes, and seven members of the Central American group UNCAF, which is part of the larger CONCACAF confederation for North and Central American confederation.
Based on those figures he should get 70 votes, two more than suggested by AFP’s survey.
Sheikh Salman’s position is markedly different.
The Asian football chief is officially supported by the AFC with 46 votes, and by the Confederation of African Football, the biggest group with 54 votes.
That gives a theoretical total of 100 votes for the Sheikh, far higher than the 28 votes indicated by the answers received by AFP.
Of those who failed to provide their voting intentions 24 African countries said they preferred to keep their vote secret before the ballot.
Infantino, who has just been to Africa, said he is certain he has convinced some federations on the continent to back him.
Confusion is widespread however. For example the Democratic Republic of Congo federation (FECOFA) vice-president told AFP they were going against CAF’s advice and back Prince Ali.
But later his boss, president Constant Omari declared: “CAF has spoken. The FECOFA won’t be making any further comment.”
South Sudan is the only African country to publically go against CAF and side with Infantino.
In Libya, the situation is complex, with the football authorities in the war-ravaged country still unsure of how they were planning to vote on Wednesday.
The country is divided between rival administrations based in Tobruk and Tripoli. It also has two football associations.
In Friday’s vote, a two-thirds majority is required to secure a first-round victory. That seems unlikely for any candidate and the poll should go to at least two rounds of voting.
Only a simple majority is required to win from the second round.
Given the cloud of secrecy hanging over the destination of so many votes the only thing certain about Friday’s election is the uncertainty of the result numbers.