SHEIKH SALMAN FAVORED
ZURICH—The support of most nations in Africa and Asia and the backing of one of sports’ biggest power brokers should be enough to put Sheikh Salman of Bahrain in charge of the world’s most popular sport on Friday, as Fifa elects a president to maneuver the soccer body away from decades of corruption.
Fifa officials, delegates and observers told the Associated Press (AP) that surveys of voters and confederations indicate Salman had the most support and could win a majority on the first ballot. A second round of voting will likely be necessary, unless the other four candidates concede. Fifa rules require a two-thirds majority (138 of 207 federations) on the first ballot, and a majority (104) on later rounds.
Salman seems on track to get the biggest first-round tally, Fifa observers and officials not linked to any candidate told the AP on condition of anonymity. The officials, who didn’t want their names used to avoid angering voters in the secret ballot, said Salman had received solid pledges of support to get votes ranging from the “high-90s” to 117.
Fifa elections are typically secretive. Few voters offer public opinions and many promise votes to more than one candidate. “The only people you believe are the ones who say they won’t vote for you,” US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati once said.
But even supporters of Salman’s biggest competition—Gianni Infantino, the Swiss general secretary of European governing body UEFA—were not saying on Thursday they thought he was leading.
Salman would give the Asian region its first president in Fifa’s 112-year history. His election would extend a run of success in Olympic and international soccer votes for candidates and host cities supported by Fifa and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Sheikh Ahmad and his Kuwait-based vote-getting operation.
“He is a friend, he is a brother, he is a colleague, a mentor,” Salman said of Ahmad. “All of the above. We work together.”
Ahmad was key to delivering the IOC presidency to Thomas Bach in 2013, but has kept a lower profile presence in this four-month campaign. He maintained his public silence on Thursday evening, declining to comment to the AP, even while making last-minute visits with Salman to the Zurich hotel shared by voters from the Concacaf and Oceania regions— the nonaligned, “swing states” in a race between candidates from Asia, Africa and Europe.
Ahmad joined Fifa’s executive committee last year, after years of building coalitions in the IOC. Though Ahmad publicly rejects the “kingmaker” label, he flashes a smile when asked about it.
The other candidates are Prince Ali of Jordan, who conceded to Blatter after a first-round vote last May; Jerome Champagne of France; and Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa.
SURVEYS of voters and confederations indicate Sheikh Salman has the
most support and could win a majority on the first ballot.