Infantino leads after 1st round of FIFA presidential vote

Author: The Associated Press
Published: Updated:

ZURICH (AP) – There was no clear winner in the first round of voting in the FIFA presidential election, with Gianni Infantino getting the biggest tally.

The Swiss official received 88 of the 207 votes, well short of a two-thirds majority of 138 required by election rules.

Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, long seen as the front-runner, was second with 85 votes. Prince Ali of Jordan had 27, and Jerome Champagne of France had seven.

Infantino, the UEFA general secretary, needs 16 more votes in the second round to win with a simple majority of 104. Sheikh Salman needs to find 19 more.

Though some of Ali’s Asian voters could drift to their regional president, the prince’s pledges from the United States and Australia could go to Infantino.

The result of the second ballot was likely to be known after two hours, at about 6 p.m. Swiss time (1700 GMT).

There were only four candidates on the ballot after Tokyo Sexwale withdrew during his campaign speech to voters, and all four went forward to the second round.

Not since 1974 has a second-round vote been held in a FIFA presidential election. Then, Joao Havelange of Brazil beat 13-year incumbent Stanley Rous of England 68-52 after an initial 62-56 ballot in Frankfurt, Germany.

Infantino exceeded most observers’ expectations after an impressive 15-minute pitch, only 20 minutes before voting began.

The 45-year-old Swiss-Italian spoke in several languages without notes and portrayed himself as a leader for the world, not just his own wealthy confederation.

“We have to get Europe to do much more,” Infantino said.

His campaign has promised more of key FIFA gifts to member federations: More guaranteed funding from FIFA’s $5 billion-plus World Cup revenue, more places in an expanded 40-team tournament and more opportunities to stage the World Cup with multi-national regional hosting.

Sheikh Salman was expected to lead the first round with backing from Africa and the Asian soccer confederation he has led since 2013.

Still, he has been the most criticized and scrutinized candidate throughout the four-month campaign. The issue of Bahrain’s human rights record was often cited by Gulf activists but had not seemed to seriously trouble voters outside Europe.

Sheikh Salman has strongly denied claims about his role in the Arab Spring protests of 2011 when he was Bahrain’s soccer federation president.

The eventual winner of Friday’s election will get to serve the rest of outgoing president Sepp Blatter’s term in office, which runs through May 2019.

He will also take over a wealthy but vulnerable soccer body rocked by escalating corruption scandals.

Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term in May but bowed to pressure four days later and announced he would resign. Blatter was subsequently banned for six years for financial mismanagement and was absent Friday after 40 years as a fixture at FIFA meetings.

Before electing FIFA’s first new president since 1998, 87 percent of the 207 voting federations passed wide-ranging reforms to protect against corruption and curb the powers of its new president.

Those include preventing presidents from serving more than three four-year terms, reducing their powers and guaranteeing more independent oversight for FIFA’s decision-making and spending. The executive committee will be renamed the FIFA Council with more female members while there will be stricter integrity checks will also control top officials.

The vote was taken after the Palestine federation argued for a delay to let the new president lead the process. Blatter ordered the reform review in June after American and Swiss federal investigations hit FIFA.

FIFA and its lawyers hope the reform will help show U.S. prosecutors the soccer body is serious about changing its culture, and protect its status as a victim in the American investigation. A total of 41 people and marketing agencies have been indicted or made guilty pleas, and Blatter is a target.

Still, the new era FIFA hopes for will not easily escape the fallout from Blatter’s scandal-hit leadership.

FIFA’s financial problems provoked by the corruption crisis, and ailing staff morale, were detailed by acting secretary general Markus Kattner.

“We are currently $550 million behind our goals,” Kattner said, reminding of a conservative budget target of $5 billion revenue from the 2018 World Cup in Russia. “(There is) general uncertainty that is affecting morale of the FIFA team.”

The winner will become the ninth elected president in FIFA’s 112-year history.

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