NYON, Switzerland (AP) – UEFA gave strong but not total support on Friday for its general secretary Gianni Infantino’s bid to become FIFA president, and delayed its own expected leadership election.
Amid months of uncertainty for European soccer, leaders of the 54 member federations were summoned to UEFA for the first time since a crisis meeting in October after their president Michel Platini was suspended by FIFA.
They heard Infantino explain his plans as would-be FIFA president and were told that an election to replace Platini is now unlikely to happen at a congress in May in Budapest, Hungary. Instead, UEFA will wait out Platini’s appeals to overturn his eight-year ban from duty.
“UEFA’s national associations also overwhelmingly expressed their support for Gianni and will officially announce their individual positions in due course,” European soccer’s governing body said in a statement.
The other candidates to succeed Sepp Blatter in the Feb. 26 election in Zurich are: former FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan; Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain; former FIFA official Jerome Champagne; and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.
Infantino can count on a big majority of the 53 European federations with FIFA votes to support him having served as their top administrator since 2009.
Still, Malta has said it will vote for Prince Ali of Jordan, who got votes from across Europe when he lost to Blatter 133-73 in May, and other UEFA members have publicly expressed doubts about their candidate.
Infantino announced Friday that Russia’s federation – a long-time Blatter supporter led by sports minister and FIFA executive committee member Vitaly Mutko – has formally pledged support.
Others have yet to decide, including England’s Football Association.
“I don’t think it’s for UEFA to say, ‘We support Gianni,'” English FA chairman Greg Dyke told The Associated Press ahead of the meeting. “It’s for individual associations and we won’t make a decision for at least another week.”
Infantino entered the race on deadline-day last October after his boss Platini was implicated in wrongdoing over a $2 million payment from FIFA in 2011 for uncontracted salary as an adviser to Blatter, who was also later banned.
Platini’s candidacy had been supported by Sheikh Salman, and recent speculation focused on a potential deal for Infantino to be the influential FIFA secretary general with the Bahraini royal as president.
“There is no question of any deals. I am a candidate for the FIFA presidency until the end,” Infantino said Friday.
However, a working agreement last week between the Asian and the 53-voter African confederation – signed by the sheikh and FIFA’s interim president, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon – suggested Europe’s position had weakened.
Infantino dismissed a question about election rules being stretched.
“I have no concerns at all with regard to this election,” the Swiss official said. “I am very confident that everything will run in the right way.”
Infantino’s manifesto, published Tuesday, proposed more World Cup places, more World Cup hosting opportunities and more FIFA development funds for its 209 members.
He said that an expanded 40-team World Cup could be co-hosted from 2026 onwards across regions.
In a period of turmoil for UEFA, speculation has revived across Europe this month that elite clubs could consider leaving the Champions League to form their own competition.
“We don’t have to deny this is a difficult period,” Infantino said. “But when the foundations are solid, and they are solid in UEFA, then even if there is a storm from time to time we keep strong.”