Don't expect much change even with new Fifa boss
Fifa election is no watershed, especially with Infantino and Sheikh Salman in the mix
World football's governing body wants to show it has changed but refuses to embrace change after Sepp Blatter.
Don't be fooled by the personnel changes - the rules are still the same at Fifa.
What a tangled web world football's governing body continues to weave.
Lifetime bans and criminal charges have been meted out like confetti in the wake of US$200 million ($280.4m) worth of kickbacks, racketeering and corruption which has tarnished the legacies of at least five World Cups and look set to taint a further two, in Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).
Blatter may have been banished from attending the historic event at the Hallenstadion for Fifa's landmark vote today for a new president, but his influence will continue to loom large.
Backroom deals, vote trading and promises of developmental windfalls are still firmly on the agenda in spite of the recent clampdowns.
His likely successors as president also maintain a link to that inglorious past.
Sheikh Salman Ibrahim Al-Khalifa's elevation from an ally of the now deposed Blatter to an unlikely and unassuming candidate was borne out of circumstance.
The head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) previously offered his backing to Michel Platini, before the Uefa president's implication in one of Fifa's many corruption scandals.
His has ticked the bureaucratic boxes, with a manifesto pledging a "complete organisational overhaul" and implementing "stringent control mechanisms" to ensure a clear separation of the murky waters that polluted world football's governance under Blatter.
A vote for Bahrain royal Sheikh Salman should, theoretically, also represent a vote for Asian football.
If only it was that simple.
Eurocentric tendencies saw him earmarked as Uefa's potential fall-back option in October in the wake of Platini's failure to overturn his eight-year ban, since reduced to six.
His own willingness to ensure the AFC previously backed the deposed ex-head of European football in today's election further undermined the strength of his candidacy, as did proposals of a pact with Gianni Infantino, another leading candidate and former Platini aide, to secure his presidency.
Accusations that the Uefa general secretary's plans to increase cash pay-outs to national federations would bankrupt Fifa within three years have done little to prevent Sheikh Salman's own suitability to govern being placed firmly under the microscope.
As Fifa remains the subject of an intense clamour for reform, Sheikh Salman's bid to begin the cleansing process has been dogged by historic allegations of his involvement in human rights abuses.
The fact that 150 athletes were arrested and tortured in Bahrain's 2011 pro-democracy uprising makes for damning reading; as does his supposed involvement in the suspension and punishment of six clubs in the country on politically motivated grounds.
Though he maintains an unblemished innocence and has passed the integrity check for presidential candidates, the claims persist and were taken as far as Fifa's primary sponsors.
Sheikh Salman has attempted to silence the accusers with legal letters from a London law firm while his refusal to demonstrate accountability as a football administrator by declining to join public leadership debates has cast further doubt over his credentials.
Keeping the wolves, namely the US Department of Justice and Swiss prosecutors, from the door once again threatens dictate the mood of the voting masses when they reconvene in Zurich during the early hours of tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Like an addict, Fifa wants to change, but it has never truly embraced change.
Even as it prepares to usher in a potential watershed with its third president in 42 years, old habits continue to die hard.
Rivals make final pitches
The five men vying for the leadership of world football made their final eve-of-vote pitches yesterday, outlining competing visions for the future of governing body Fifa as it tries to recover from the worst corruption scandal in its history.
Delegates from more than 200 countries will elect a new president today to succeed Sepp Blatter of Switzerland, two days after Blatter and European chief Michel Platini lost their appeals against bans for ethics violations.
Whoever takes over from Blatter, who ran Fifa for 17 years like a globe-trotting head of state, will inherit a very different job with a focus on crisis management.
"The world is waiting and watching - this is the biggest milestone in the history of Fifa. It will decide if Fifa goes ahead as we want or if it spirals down," said Jordanian Prince Ali Al Hussein.
South Africa's Tokyo Sexwale described Fifa as "broken" and a damaged brand, though he also referred to some of those felled in the scandal as "friends we have lost".
Swiss candidate Gianni Infantino repeated his promise to offer each of Fifa's members US$5 million ($7m) to invest in the sport over a four-year period - more than double the US$2.05m per federation provided from 2011-14.
He said this could be achieved "easily" by tackling the cost structure of Fifa.
Bahrain's Sheikh Salman Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, who along with Infantino is seen as a frontrunner, was more cautious, speaking of a "realistic" increase in funding.
"For me, if the numbers are right, we can increase, but I am not ready to mortgage Fifa's future win an election."
French outsider Jerome Champagne took a shot at Infantino's globetrotting campaign by saying the election had been "unbalanced".
"I did not have a private jet to visit you, take a photo and then tweet and say I have got the endorsement," he said, to laughter from delegates.
The two favourites were both upbeat.
"I am feeling good and very positive.
"The support I am receiving fills me with confidence," Infantino told Reuters in an e-mail while travelling between meetings.
A spokesman for his Bahraini rival said: "Sheikh Salman is very confident about tomorrow's vote."
Fifa was plunged into turmoil last year when several dozen current and former officials were indicted in the United States for corruption after an investigation spanning dozens of countries into wire fraud, money laundering and bribery.
Switzerland has also launched a criminal investigation. The probes have focused on the awarding of lucrative broadcast and marketing rights to the sport.
They are also examining the process by which Fifa awarded the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Acting Fifa president Issa Hayatou appealed to members in what he called one of the most important weeks in the history of global football, urging them to support a package of reforms on governance.
These include introducing term limits for top officials and requiring them to disclose their earnings.
"I urge each of you to support the reforms in full here this week, and then to implement them to their entirety at home," Hayatou said, in an address aimed at the six confederations that run football around the world.
"This will send a strong message that we have listened and that we are taking the action necessary to give football the foundation, and protection it needs for the future."
The Fifa presidential election
WHAT: Fifa Extraordinary Congress
WHERE: Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland
Sheikh Salman Ibrahim Al-Khalifa (Bahrain), Gianni Infantino (Switzerland), Prince Ali Al Hussein (Jordan), Tokyo Sexwale (South Africa), Jerome Champagne (France)
Each of Fifa's 209 members gets a vote, but Indonesia and Kuwait are banned at the moment due to government involvement in their associations. The two countries may regain their right to vote, though, as their bans will be reviewed by the congress today.
There are two ways the election process could go. It could end after the first round if any candidate manages to get a two-thirds majority, or 138 votes. If not, voting goes to a second round, in which a simple majority will suffice.
Voting takes place in a secret ballot.
BREAKDOWN OF VOTES
- Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) - 35 votes
- Confederation of African Football (CAF) - 54 votes
- Asian Football Confederation (AFC) - 46 votes
- South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) - 10 votes
- Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) - 11 votes
- Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) - 53 votes