GENEVA – Two soccer federations have defied the Confederation of African Football’s leadership to endorse FIFA presidential candidates on Saturday.
South Sudan’s federation pledged its vote for Gianni Infantino, the UEFA general secretary from Switzerland, Liberia declared for former FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan.
They followed Egypt which promised its vote to Prince Ali on Friday, just hours after the CAF executive committee urged Africa’s 54 FIFA voters to support Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain in the Feb. 26 election.
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Their independence has again shown that claims of unanimous continent-wide support are rarely true in FIFA elections.
”We are supporting Mr. Gianni Infantino for the FIFA presidency,” South Sudan federation president Chabur Goc Alei told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ”Any (voter) has the right to choose whoever they want.”
Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.
Bility wrote that Prince Ali ”represents real change” while other candidates were ”not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.
”He demonstrated this by standing against President Sepp Blatter when it was unthinkable to do so,” Bility wrote, referring to the prince’s 133-73 loss to Blatter last May. Days later, Blatter announced his exit plans under pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption in international soccer.
Bility was himself an applicant last October in the presidential contest. He then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee, which did not publish reasons for barring Bility.
Sheikh Salman has been seen as the election front-runner with public support from the executive committees of the African and Asian confederations. The two continents have 100 of the 209 FIFA members.
Infantino has been backed by the leadership of UEFA, the South American body CONMEBOL and the seven-member Central American regional group in the CONCACAF confederation.
South Sudan’s Alei said Infantino’s pledge of financial support for smaller regional groups was key to his federation’s endorsement.
The other candidates are former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.