Gianni-Infantino

The duo of UEFA General Secretary, Gianni Infantino and Asian soccer chief, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa made surprise last ditch entrance into the FIFA presidential race on Monday.

UEFA made a surprise announcement that it was backing Infantino ahead of the last Monday midnight deadline for candidates to register nominations for the FIFA presidency bids, soon after it learnt that Michel Platini’s first attempt to appeal against his 90-day ban from all footballing activities has been rejected. “This decision is not that of the (FIFA) appeals committee, for which no date has yet been communicated to Platini,” the Frenchman’s counsel said in a statement, adding that they are “convinced the appeals will eventually show his complete integrity and restore all his rights”.

Platini, who had been considered favourite to succeed FIFA president Sepp Blatter were earlier this month suspended alongside embattled outgoing FIFA boss from all football related activities for 90 days pending a full investigation by FIFA’s Ethics Committee.

Although, Platini would not be able to be officially named a candidate while under suspension but FIFA has left the door ajar for him to run should he later win an appeal against his ban. However, UEFA quickly drafted Infantino into the race, in a desperate bid to avoid losing out on the plum seat should Platini’s bid crash-lands. “We are delighted that Gianni has agreed to stand and he knows that he has our full support in his campaign to become FIFA President. We believe that Gianni Infantino has all of the qualities required to tackle the major challenges ahead and to lead the organisation on a path of reform to restore FIFA’s integrity and credibility,” UEFA said in a statement.

A multilingual lawyer, shaven-headed Infantino joined UEFA in 2000 and has been general secretary since 2009. He has overseen the implementation of the complicated and controversial Financial Fair Play policy, a break-even rule which clubs are required to meet before they can take part in European competition. Infantino said in a statement issued by UEFA that he was “humbled and honoured” to enter the race.

He said his manifesto would be “based on the need for ‎reform and also for a FIFA that genuinely serves the interests of all 209 national associations, big or small, and that puts football and football development at the top of its agenda.”

“If elected I would lead that change in partnership with all who want to see a FIFA worthy of governing the world’s number one sport with dignity and respect.”

Other ticket grabbers: Just like UEFA, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) offered a late support to Sheikh Salman who had assured it “that his campaign will be entirely self-financed”. The Bahraini, closely allied to Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the most powerful men in the Olympic movement, canvassed opinion from Asian associations last week.

On Saturday, South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale, a former Apartheid-era political prisoner turned businessman, announced he would stand. A spokesman confirmed Sexwale had the necessary five nominations. Former Trinidad and Tobago midfielder David Nakhid says he has submitted his papers to FIFA, along with former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne and Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein.

Liberia’s Musa Bility has said he wants to run. His chances suffered a setback when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) refused to back him, but on Monday the BBC reported that he had the five nominations necessary to stand. Former Brazil international Zico has been campaigning but has admitted he is struggling to get the backing of five FAs.

Another candidate, South Korea’s Chung Mong-Joon, pulled out of the race on Monday. A scion of South Korea’s Hyundai industrial conglomerate, Chung was banned from the sport for six years by FIFA, after an investigation into the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. “Even though I can no longer stand for FIFA President, there is much left for me to do,” Chung said.

“I will continue to work with all those who love football to bring about legitimate changes from within FIFA.”

By Olisemeka Obeche

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