(WFI) Four of the five men seeking to replace Sepp Blatter gathered in Miami to pitch their visions for FIFA’s future to CONCACAF leaders.
Sheikh Salman, Jerome Champagne, Gianni Infantino and Prince Ali arrived at the Sheraton Airport Hotel in Miami, Florida late Thursday afternoon. Fellow candidate Tokyo Sexwale did not attend the meeting, possibly signaling an early end to his lacklustre presidential campaign.
Approximately 20 journalists were on-hand for the event originally not opened to the media. Camera crews from ESPN and Fox Sports interviewed Infantino and others as they entered the hotel.
CONCACAF was the last of the six regional confederations to hear from the candidates as the Feb. 26 election date looms. Each candidate was given 20 minutes to explain to the 41 CONCACAF federation leaders why CONCACAF should support them in the race.
No Big Pitch from Salman
After receiving the vast majority of support from both the Asian Football Confederation and the African confederation, front-runner Sheikh Salman of Bahrain kicked off the presentations Thursday evening.
Despite noticeably feeling the effects of jet lag after a long flight from Europe, Salman used the entirety of his allotted time to explain how FIFA needs to focus less on politics and more on football, outlining his eight-point manifesto via a PowerPoint.
“We need to develop football based on needs and not politics,” said Salman. “We need to separate the business from politics, creating two FIFAs with the business side of FIFA and the FIFA of football.”
Salman’s presentation was little more than an overview of his campaign manifesto with a visual aid. The other three candidates used the platform to appeal more to the emotions of the CONCACAF leaders, detailing how they could use their experience to benefit the region’s football associations.
Champagne’s Charm Offensive
Jerome Champagne took the floor after Salman and spoke for only 10 minutes, allowing time for a question from one of the delegates which he answered in Spanish. Champagne tried to make it clear to the delegation that he understands the various needs of the CONCACAF associations as he has witnessed the challenges they face as a Cuban and United States resident in the past.
He made a swipe at the other candidates in the race in his opening remarks, describing how he has no private jet to transport him on the campaign trail and that he is not beholden to any federation, politician or government. He noted how Russian president Vladimir Putin and Bahrain leaders met in recent days to discuss the future of FIFA, insinuating that Salman would be a candidate that may have to answer to others.
Champagne ended his presentation by asking the CONCACAF delegates what they wanted to see from FIFA in the future.
“Do we want a FIFA where football is treated like basketball where only one league matters, the NBA?” he asked. “Where club competitions have more importance than national team matches where everyone is concentrated on one? Or would you like to see football as the universal activity we know, love and need?”
Infantino: “I’m a Worker”
UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino took the floor next.
“I’m not here to tell you stories, I’m here to tell you facts,” Infantino said to open his speech, landing a quick jab at Champagne who relied mostly on anecdotes. “I’m not a politician, I’m a worker; someone who can pull up their sleeves and get to work, which I think is what FIFA needs now.”
Infantino used all his allotted time, explaining that “football belongs to the national federations”, and as such they should receive more of the profits earned from the World Cup, a figure he put at $5.5 billion. He says that as of today, each national federation only receives $1 million from the World Cup proceeds, a figure that was decided upon in 1998 when World Cup revenues were just over $400 million.
Infantino wants 50 percent of the proceeds to be redistributed to the federations from this point forward, a clear appeal to the 41 federation leaders of CONCACAF, many of which are from island nations that do not receive much funding.
Ali Slams FIFA Funding Cut for CONCACAF
Prince Ali of Jordan was the last to take the floor around 10pm. Originally not expected to join the meeting, Ali said he received a hefty speeding ticket fine in Geneva, Switzerland trying to rush to catch a plane and make it to the meeting on time. He had held a briefing at the Geneva Press Club earlier in the day.
“Your confederation is not the cause of FIFA’s problems, it is a victim of FIFA’s problems,” Ali said to begin his speech. “The failure of leadership at the top of FIFA set the tone for the entire organization.”
Ali says he want to take a hard stance on all forms of corruption, but children in countries affected by corruption should not receive backlash for the mistakes of those entrusted to lead their country’s football programs.
“Anyone in FIFA or CONCACAF that engages in corruption should be held accountable, but collective punishment for individual actions is wrong. As I told the European media this morning, I was outraged when I heard FIFA cut off development funding to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.”
Ali concluded his presentation early by telling the delegation that they now must decide whether to continue with its old ways or make a choice to join the modern world.
CONCACAF will continue its 2016 confederation meeting early Friday morning when discussions switch to changes of its statutes ahead of its general assembly in Zurich on Feb. 25.
CONCACAF leaders have refused to say whether they will throw support behind any one of the candidates at the conclusion of their meeting.
FIFA will elect its new president on Feb. 26 at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
Reported in Miami by INSIDER’s Kevin Nutley
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