Hayatou and Salman today in Kigali (CAF)

(WFI) Shaikh Salman’s bid for the FIFA presidency was boosted Friday by an agreement to establish closer ties between his Asian confederation and African football’s governing body.

Interim FIFA president Issa Hayatou, who heads the African confederation, signed the four-year deal with Salman in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. The MoU aims to strengthen cooperation between the two confederations and will include initiating high level competitions and conducting joint technical development programs in various fields such as coaching, refereeing, women’s football, integrity and administration.

Hayatou, who took the FIFA reins after Sepp Blatter was banned, may be the kingmaker in the five-man FIFA election battle.

With UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino set to net significant support from Europe’s FAs and Salman backed by a majority of Asian federations, the distribution of Africa’s 54 votes will be key in next month’s election.

In October, Hayatou and his CAF executive committee dealt a blow to Tokyo Sexwale’s hopes of securing significant African support when they refused to endorse his campaign. CAF decided to leave its options open. But the MoU signals support for Salman.

Salman’s spokesman tells INSIDER the AFC president has been on the campaign trail in Africa since the 12th, meeting federation chiefs at the West African Football Union conference in Accra, Ghana, and now in Kigali.

While the other FIFA presidential hopefuls – Infantino, Jerome Champagne, Prince Ali Bin al Hussein and Sexwale – head to Antigua in the West Indies this weekend to lobby Caribbean Football Union leaders, Salman has finished his work there – for the time being. He is not travelling to Antigua.

“We were there last week for private one-on-ones with numerous CFU delegates,” Salman’s spokesman told INSIDER. “Subsequently we were in Panama meeting UNCAF and CONCACAF delegates.”

Ahead of his talks with Caribbean football officials, Champagne feels he may be making headway in gathering support in the region. He touted the backing of former France international and 1998 World Cup winner Bernard Lama, who has written to all Caribbean FA presidents and general secretaries endorsing Champagne’s candidature.

“I strongly believe that Mr Champagne’s determination, extent of experience and professionalism are what FIFA needs,” he said in the letter seen by INSIDER.

“Mr Champagne is fully acquainted with the West Indies and Caribbean environment, having stayed in Cuba for some years, and is aware of our particular needs as a smaller federation,” said the vice president of the federation from French Guyana.

“We know that he will tackle our local challenges.”

“He is able to garner support for his vision because of his great ambition for football, humility and insight of the workings of FIFA. I am convinced that Mr Champagne has a diligence for ethical interaction and equity of Federations,” he added.

The BBC is in talks with the five FIFA candidates about staging a live televised or web streamed debate.

The initiative would only work if the timing was right and all confirmed their participation. The FIFA candidates’ globe-trotting in the quest to lock up votes in the Feb. 26 election means there will be few days in the next seven weeks when such an event could take place with all five present. Prince Ali and others have said they won’t participate in such a debate without their rivals also being grilled in the TV spotlight. Last week, ESPN dropped plans for a televised debate between the FIFA contenders in late January because four of them could not commit to attending in person, citing campaigning commitments.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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