Infantino bids for Fifa post, blow to Platini
BAHRAIN'S Sheikh Salman Ebrahim al Khalifa and Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino blew the race to succeed Sepp Blatter as Fifa president wide open as the bidding process closed at midnight on Monday.
Eight candidates had confirmed their bids but Fifa will not publish the final list until this morning (Singapore time).
Swiss lawyer Infantino's campaign in particular will come as a huge blow to suspended Uefa president Michel Platini's own faltering hopes in the February election.
Asian football chief Sheikh Salman pledged to get the scandal-tainted Fifa, world football's governing body, "back on the right track", but the biggest shock waves were created by the multilingual Infantino, who has the "full backing" of Uefa's executive committee.
Infantino's announcement would appear to place Platini - who is currently serving a 90-day ban as investigations continue into a 1.8 million euro (S$2.8 million) payment received from Fifa in 2011 without a written contract - in an uncomfortable position.
"We believe that Gianni Infantino has all 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," said Uefa.
Erstwhile favourite Platini officially remains a contender, pending an examination of his candidacy when his ban ends on Jan 5.
Infantino's announcement casts doubt over Platini's support within Uefa and poses the question of whether Infantino is being presented as a Plan B in case the former France star is prevented from standing.
Fifa's electoral committee must judge the integrity of all candidates, meaning Platini's bid could be compromised by his ban.
Platini's lawyers confirmed he had had a first appeal against his ban rejected on Monday, but the case is still to go before Fifa's appeals committee. His lawyers said they remained "convinced the appeals will eventually show his complete integrity and restore all his rights".
Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman, 49, said that he had decided to run "out of a wish to put the international organisation back on the right track and in response to calls by many members of the football community."
However, even without Infantino's announcement, his chances of receiving the backing of European federations may not have been helped by the fact that he has been heavily criticised by human-rights campaigners for his role in suppressing pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011.
Another heavyweight candidate to come forward is Tokyo Sexwale, the 62-year-old South African anti-apartheid campaigner. His non-footballing background could serve as a handicap, though, given that it is the presidents of Fifa's 209 member federations who elect the new chief.
Other confirmed candidates include the Jordanian Prince Ali Al Hussein, the 39-year-old brother of Jordan's King Abdullah. He was the only adversary to Blatter at the previous election in May this year, and took the veteran Swiss to a second round of voting before withdrawing.
But on that occasion, he had the backing of Uefa - something he is likely to have to do without this time.
French former diplomat Jerome Champagne, 57, worked for Fifa between 1999 and 2010. But he appears to lack the necessary clout, a problem also faced by David Nakhid, the former Trinidad and Tobago captain.
Liberian FA chief Musa Bility has also entered the race.
Fifa's electoral committee was set to meet late yesterday to study each bid and the integrity of the candidates, with the exception of Platini, who must wait until the end of his ban.
South Korean businessman Chung Mong Joon announced on Monday that he was withdrawing because of a six-year ban imposed on him by Fifa's ethics committee.
Former Fifa general secretary Michel Zen Ruffinen said he would not stand, while Brazilian legend Zico has long admitted he was struggling to secure the necessary five signatures.