Arab royals set to clash in battle for FIFA leadership

Fri Oct 16, 2015 1:17pm EDT
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By Simon Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - Two Arab royals are set to face off for control of FIFA with the main battleground likely to be Europe, the home of world soccer’s scandal-hit governing body.

The election to replace Sepp Blatter at the helm of FIFA took a fresh twist on Friday as the president of Asian soccer Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain entered the contest.

"Sheikh Salman is intending to run," a Middle Eastern soccer source told Reuters on Friday, while British bookmakers William Hill instantly made Salman a 5-2 second favorite behind Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein in the race for one of the most powerful job in world sport.

The move came after a UEFA meeting in Nyon on Thursday which, barring another twist in the tale, appears to have marked the end of Frenchman Michel Platini’s presidential campaign.

Sheikh Salman had initially backed Platini, the UEFA president. But the Frenchman's troubles, which originated with a 2011 payment of two million Swiss francs from Blatter's FIFA for work done nine years earlier, have dramatically changed the electoral landscape.

Last week, Platini was handed a 90-day provisional ban from football by FIFA’s Ethics Committee – a decision which has quickly led to his support dissipating.

All FIFA’s previous elected leaders have come from Europe and South America. With the 2022 World Cup set to take place in Qatar, the power in the world’s most popular sport could shift to the oil-rich Gulf region.

Sheikh Salman is closely allied with Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the most powerful men in international sports politics and a key figure in the Olympic movement. Ahmad's backing will be valuable for the Feb. 26 vote, but Salman faces a fight, even within his own region.   Continued...

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) head Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa arrives for a meeting with the FIFA task force in Doha February 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous