Asian football chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has blown the FIFA presidential race wide open after deciding to join the contest.
Salman had given his backing to Michel Platini but following the UEFA president’s suspension by FIFA’s ethics committee he has lost faith in the Frenchman and has decided to run himself, sources close to the Sheikh said.
He is expected to formally announce his candidacy either over the weekend or before Tuesday’s emergency meeting of the FIFA executive committee in Zurich.
It will be a serious blow to Platini’s hopes – who anyway would need to be cleared of wrongdoing over a £1.35m payment to him from FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Salman’s move also damages the chances of Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan who delivered his five nominations to FIFA earlier on Thursday.
The development follows a meeting of UEFA’s 54 associations in Nyon which saw members remain split over their support for Platini – some associations backed an alternative candidate such as Holland’s Michael van Praag.
Platini’s lawyer addressed the meeting but failed to address the burning issue of a lack of written agreement for the payment, the case which has led to Platini and Blatter being provisionally banned for 90 days.
UEFA’s members issued a joint statement calling for a “rapid decision” by mid-November on the FIFA ethics case involving Platini and supporting the suspended UEFA president’s right to a fair hearing.
A number however – including the four British associations – remained to be convinced by his explanations. There were suggestions at the meeting in Nyon that a ’Plan B’ be drawn up for if Platini is found guilty, which would see an alternative European candidate put forward for the FIFA election before the October 26 deadline.
UEFA’s general secretary Gianni Infantino told a news conference in Nyon that it was agreed that the FIFA presidential election on February 26 “cannot and should not be delayed”.
He added: “There was a discussion if there should be a European candidate or not. This is something that will be discussed by UEFA representatives on the FIFA ExCo next week together with members of other confederations and we see if another from Europe comes up or someone from another confederation.”
Platini and outgoing Blatter have been provisionally banned by FIFA’s ethics committee over the payment made in 2011 – the 2million Swiss franc fee was for work they say was done by the Frenchman more than nine years previously. The case is also being investigated by the Swiss attorney general.
In a statement following the meeting in Nyon, UEFA said the case and the whole appeals process needed to be completed by mid-November.
The statement said: “We support Michel Platini’s right to a due process and a fair trial and to the opportunity to clear his name.
“We strongly call on all instances involved in the current process: FIFA’s ethics committee, FIFA’s appeal committee and ultimately the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to work very rapidly to ensure that there is a final decision on the merits of the case by, at the latest, mid-November 2015.”
Infantino added on Platini, who is still being paid his UEFA salary: “We need to have a final decision. The rest is speculation and condemnation without due process, and it is a bit unfair.”
Infantino also criticised the “leaks” that had come out about the case.
He added: “What’s really disappointing is all the leaks coming out. It’s not fair that you (the media) know before the person who is accused or suspended. It’s not what we call fair process or trial, it just pushes a condemnation without a decision and this is not correct.”
Platini appears to be pinning his hopes on CAS rather than the ethics committee. Infantino said pointedly “we trust CAS” but only that “we hope the FIFA ethics committee is independent”.
Spain’s Angel Villar Llona chaired the meetings in his position as UEFA’s senior vice-president – he rejected the term ’interim president’ out of respect for Platini. He too is under investigation by FIFA’s ethics committee over the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process.