(WFI) INSIDER understands that Sheikh Salman will spend the next week in Zurich and is “comfortable” he has the support needed to win the FIFA election on Feb. 26.
Salman has spent the last few days in Zurich after being advised to rest from a gruelling travel schedule. The Asian Football Confederation president has not been hospitalized and is not ill, INSIDER is told. Salman was fatigued after criss-crossing the globe over the last few months in a bid to secure backing from FIFA’s 209 member associations.
He is now said to be “absolutely fine” and spending time maintaining contacts with federation presidents and secretary generals he has already met on his worldwide mission. Salman aims to be “fully charged” to welcome football associations as they start arriving in Zurich over the next few days.
Salman has abandoned any ideas of further globe-trotting to make last-ditch pleas to federations. His decision to stay in Zurich through Feb. 26 is touted as a sign of his confidence that he’s shored up enough votes to win the FIFA contest.
But could this strategy backfire?
INSIDER learned about Salman’s situation after speaking with his spokesman on Thursday to enquire about his campaigning activities. With eight days to go to the FIFA vote on Sepp Blatter’s successor, Salman’s predicament raises suspicions that something is amiss with his campaign, which appears to have lost some momentum over the past week.
His campaign chief denied to INSIDER that there was anything wrong and laughed off the suggestion that Salman was considering withdrawing from the race, in what would be a dramatic turn of events given that he is considered the frontrunner.
Salman is banking on most of Asia’s 46 federations delivering votes for him, and expects to gain considerable backing from Africa’s 54 federations. He seems less certain about receiving backing from other confederations, although he’s confident of locking up a chunk of CONCACAF’s 35 votes and of securing a handful of Eastern European votes.
After the AFC ExCo’s support in recent months, Asia’s member federations were yesterday again encouraged to get behind the Bahraini’s FIFA quest. The AFC chief was conspicuous by his absence from the meeting in Kuala Lumpur held to discuss FIFA reforms, his absence later explained by his trip to Zurich. Gianni Infantino was the only FIFA presidential candidate to attend.
AFC’s marketing committee chair Richard Lai urged member federations to get behind one Asian candidate and vote for Salman next week. Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan is also vying to replace Blatter. “We must unite behind the one who will deliver these reforms, and that is the AFC president,” he was quoted by the Associated Press.
Growing Support for Infantino
Infantino, Salman’s biggest rival, is thought to be eroding Salman’s perceived Asian support base. His camp said the 45-year-old had received positive feedback from the Asian federations he met in Kuala Lumpur.
The UEFA secretary general’s campaign is gaining momentum as he heads to Africa to chip away at Salman’s supposed stranglehold of support on the continent. However, divisions have already appeared, with Prince Ali and Infantino most likely to benefit.
Last night, Infantino received the backing of the English FA, bringing association endorsements for him to 59.
He also has the CONMEBOL ExCo championing his cause; South America’s confederation has 10 votes. Further European federations are expected to sign up to his FIFA crusade in the coming days.
If – and it’s a big if – his 70-plus endorsements translate into votes on D-day, Feb. 26, a two-thirds majority securing a first round victory for any of his opponents would be impossible.
Jerome Champagne and Tokyo Sexwale are also running for the most powerful job in world football. The much-anticipated secret ballot takes place at Zurich’s Hallonstadion next Friday.
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
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