February 1, 2016 / 5:28 PM / in 2 years

Infantino may look outside Europe for FIFA right-hand man

LONDON (Reuters) - FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino said on Monday he would not automatically choose a European to be his secretary general if he wins the election to lead world soccer this month, breaking a pattern dating back more than 100 years.

UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino gestures during a news conference after an Executive Committee meeting at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, January 22, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Infantino, who appears to have widespread backing in Europe and promised support from South and Central American countries, hinted he could appoint an African to run FIFA’s day-to-day administration if he wins the election in Zurich on Feb. 26.

Speaking at London’s Wembley Stadium, he gave no specific indication why he would seek to broaden FIFA’s power base as he launched his action plan for his first three months in office, should he win the vote.

But with outgoing president Sepp Blatter banned from soccer, and secretary general Jerome Valcke sacked as part of the corruption allegations engulfing the sport, all eyes are on candidates’ reform proposals to clean up soccer and keep big money sponsors on side.

The 45-year-old Swiss, currently general secretary of European body UEFA, does not want FIFA to be seen as being Euro-centric.

“What we want to do is open the doors of the FIFA administration to the most able people around the world,” he said.

“I am convinced the general secretary of FIFA should not be an European. Why not an African?,” he told reporters as he detailed the 11 key points he would focus on in office.

Since FIFA was founded in 1904, it has had 10 secretary generals -- the official who runs the day-to-day-operations -- and all of them have been European.

Infantino is one of five men standing to become only the ninth elected president in FIFA’s 112-year-history.

The current incumbent is acting president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, while FIFA also has an acting secretary general, Markus Kattner, who stepped in to replace Valcke who was sacked last month after being implicated in the illegal sale of World Cup tickets in Brazil in 2014.

Blatter, who has been banned from soccer for eight years pending an appeal, and Valcke are among the highest profile casualties of the corruption and bribery scandal that has roiled FIFA since May. Both deny wrongdoing.

The FBI and Swiss authorities have arrested 41 people and their investigations are continuing.

As well as Infanto, Frenchman Jerome Champagne, Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa and Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain are also standing for election as FIFA president.

Editing by Alison Williams

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