Miami - The five FIFA presidential candidates meet in Miami
on Friday with the election's most inscrutable voters who are deep in their own
leadership race amid a financial crisis.
Nothing is simple these days with scandal-rocked CONCACAF
which has had three recent presidents indicted by the U.S. Department of
Justice in a sprawling FIFA bribery case.
Still, the 35 FIFA voting federations from North and Central
America and the Caribbean could be decisive in the Feb. 26 election.
"Every member can make their own decision," Victor
Montagliani, the Canadian Soccer Association's president, told The Associated
Press in a telephone interview. "The CONCACAF executive committee is not
going to issue any statement that they will support any candidate."
That freedom alone makes the region's intentions
unpredictable, plus its non-aligned status with the FIFA candidates coming from
Africa, Asia and Europe.
They are: Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa, the presumed
front-runner from Bahrain who leads Asian soccer; UEFA general secretary Gianni
Infantino from Switzerland; Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, a former FIFA vice
president from Jordan; former FIFA international relations director Jerome Champagne
of France; and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, who leads FIFA's
anti-discrimination task force.
"I have the passion for the game and I have the
experience with FIFA," said Champagne, who served in various FIFA
administrative roles during an 11-year tenure that ended in 2010. "I'm
here because of what's at stake. We need someone who understands FIFA, loves
FIFA — one who is independent both from continental structures or vested
interests or even governance."
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Infantino, UEFA general secretary since 2009, does not
anticipate the proximity between the European governing body and FIFA will be
used as a disadvantage in his candidacy.
"It is not a question of power; I am not UEFA's
candidate," Infanito said. "Football is the priority."
Prince Ali had pockets of support in the region when losing
to now-banned FIFA President Sepp Blatter last May, while Infantino now has
pledged votes from the seven-member Central American group.
Two weeks from the ballot in Zurich, FIFA politics are not
the main reason for the special gathering of 41-member CONCACAF, which includes
small island federations not yet affiliated to the world body.
CONCACAF, like FIFA, is pushing through wide-ranging reforms
to improve governance and protect against corruption. Both soccer bodies had
their leadership structures and reputations shredded last May when U.S. and
Swiss investigations of corruption spanning decades were unsealed.
In an extreme scenario, both bodies risk being shut down and
indicted as corporate defendants by federal prosecutors.
On Friday, CONCACAF members will take a position on the
slate of FIFA reforms being voted on this month and update on their own revamp.
"We thought it was important that we get together now
rather than in Zurich," Montagliani said. "When we leave Miami we can
agree to disagree on some things but at least everyone is clear."
Money will also be a main talking point.
FIFA left a $10 million hole in CONCACAF finances when
taking its audit panel's advice in December to block funding to the region.
That has hurt members, some from tiny Caribbean islands, where FIFA cash
generated by the $5 billion-earning World Cup is key to survival.
"We want to get a clear indication of why it was
done," said Montagliani. "At the end of the day, FIFA is there for
its members. We will work it out and the money will be released
CONCACAF meets without a president until it holds a May 12
election in Mexico City.
The past two elected leaders — Jack Warner of Trinidad and
Tobago and Jeffrey Webb, a Cayman Islands banker living in Logansville, Georgia
— and their interim successor, Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, are DoJ targets. Webb
already pleaded guilty and faces sentence in June in a Brooklyn court.
Montagliani is among four men already seeking one of the
hottest seats in world soccer. The others are: FIFA appeal committee chairman
Larry Mussenden of Bermuda, Gordon Derrick of Antigua and Barbuda, and Mark
Rodrigues of Guyana.
"It's off to a good start," said Montagliani, a
fluent speaker of Spanish and French who was endorsed this week by the Central
"Obviously we need to get our house in order," he
said. "There's a lot of good people in CONCACAF and a lot of people are
upset, but I think everyone realizes the only way we get out of this is to come
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