(WFI) Gianni Infantino’s campaign for the FIFA presidency took him to South Africa on Monday and a visit with rival candidate Tokyo Sexwale.
The UEFA general secretary reportedly was the only candidate who accepted Sexwale’s invitation to visit Robben Island, the prison off the coast of Cape Town where Nelson Mandela was jailed during apartheid. Sexwale himself was also jailed there as a political prisoner.
Sexwale invited all of the FIFA presidential candidates but Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan declined, citing busy schedules just four days from the election.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Infantino made the one-day trip to South Africa. He has been targeting Africa as a place to pick up votes, even though Sheikh Salman is the one who received the official backing of CAF, the governing body of African soccer.
Infantino, according to the Associated Press, said “I will make an impact (in Africa). I will have a majority of the African votes.” The continent, with its 54 countries, is seen by most as the key battleground in a duel between frontrunners Sheikh Salman and Infantino.
Sheikh Salman has the support of Asia while Infantino looks to have most of Europe and all of South America in his column.
Infantino, in a statement released on Monday, made another pitch for the job.
“The selection of FIFA’s next President and a vote to agree wide-ranging governance reforms can set FIFA on a new path of trust, respect and commercial growth. To set foot on this path of renewal FIFA’s Member Associations have the opportunity to embrace the future with a real belief in their next President and a confidence in his ability to steer the organization and its Members into much better times. I believe I am that person – a candidate of genuine reform, rooted in integrity with a real vision for the future – and with proven experience to bring growth and development to the benefit the whole football family.”
According to Reuters, Sexwale did admit on Monday that he was “open to negotiations and alliances” ahead of Friday’s vote. He is the first candidate to make such a statement though how much he could bring to the table in a partnership is open for debate. His own campaign for FIFA president never seemed to get off the ground.
No Phones Allowed in Ballot Box
In the interests of protecting the private decisions of the 209 Member Association leaders of FIFA, mobile phones or recording devices of any kind are prohibited inside the FIFA ballot box, according to presidential candidate Jerome Champagne.
Champagne says he brought the issue up to the electoral committee because he was concerned some MA leaders had been pressured to photograph their ballot in order to show they in fact supported a certain candidate.
According to Reuters, Champagne says “FIFA member associations and their leaders are under intense pressure to determine their vote on February 26. Past experience, as well as the information currently circulating, is showing that in order to assure compliance with directives, voting members are being required to take pictures of their voting form with a mobile phone.”
Electoral committee chair Domenico Scala says “the use of mobile phones, cameras or other electronic equipment suited to record the voting process are not permitted in the voting booths” and that ballots will only be given to voters once they are inside the booth.
Former United States president Jimmy Carter is also concerned about the voting procedure. While Carter does not have a vested interest in world football, his foundation the Carter Center has a history of monitoring elections around the world since 1989.
“A secret ballot is essential for ensuring that voters are guided solely by their conscience and are not influenced by external pressure,” Carter said in a statement, adding that he believes transparent voting booths should also be used.
FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan agrees with Carter. He has shipped several transparent voting booths to FIFA headquarters in Zurich ahead of the election to ensure the election is not tainted. He does not know whether FIFA will resist implementing them in the election.
Prince Ali requested that these transparent booths be used in last May’s election where he went up against former president Sepp Blatter but his request was denied.
The election will take place on Friday, Feb. 26 at the FIFA extraordinary congress.
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