FIFA.jpg
Photograph: EPA/WALTER BIERI

The world football community descends on Zurich for the second time in nine months to elect a FIFA president, approve a reform package to restore the credibility of the battered ruling body

Outgoing Joseph Blatter cannot conduct as originally planned the February 26 extraordinary congress because he has been banned for eight years from football by FIFA's ethics committee in connection with a "disloyal payment" which is also part of a criminal probe.

Blatter's era ends after four decades at FIFA, 18 as its president.

Acting president Issa Hayatou will instead chair the congress at the Hallenstadion venue where Blatter was originally re-elected for a fifth term on May 29, only to announce four days later that he would hand back his mandate at the extraordinary congress.

Hayatou said the election would "open a new era for FIFA and for the future of football around the world" while the reforms "will start the process of rebuilding confidence and re-establishing FIFA as a modern and trusted professional sports organisation."

Hayatou will also be in charge at an executive committee meeting at FIFA headquarters on Wednesday which kicks off defining days for football governance.

Four of the six confederations hold final meetings ahead of the congress Thursday while Europe's UEFA has an extraordinary congress the same day which will deal mainly with administrative matters such as the annual financial report.

Last year, seven officials were arrested in a Zurich hotel two days ahead of the May 29 vote, and two more in December at the same hotel ahead of an executive committee meeting in connection with a US corruption probe which has seen 41 people/entities indicted by now.

Swiss prosecutors are also investigating FIFA in a probe which brought down Blatter as well as UEFA president Michel Platini, who was also banned for eight years as the recipient of the payment of around 2 million dollars in 2011 for FIFA work done a decade earlier.

The sanction ended Platini's campaign to run for the FIFA presidency, and the candidate of powerful UEFA is now its general secretary Gianni Infantino of Switzerland.

Infantino is considered a frontrunner along with Bahrain's Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa who presides over the Asian confederation.

Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who lost the 2015 election against Blatter, former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne of France, and South African Tokyo Sexwale are the other candidates but considered outsiders for the secret ballot among the 209 FIFA member federations.

No one is expected to garner a two-thirds majority of 140 in the first round if all members vote while only a simple majority of 105 is required in the following rounds.

Infantino has the backing of UEFA and its 53 members, South America's CONMEBOL (10 votes) and should also get most of the 35 votes from the CONCACAF confederation for North, Central America and the Caribbean.

Sheikh Salman, who wants FIFA to rise like "Phoenix out of the Ashes" can expect most of the 46 Asian votes and is endorsed by Africa with its 54 members.

The remaining 11 votes are from Oceania.

All candidates pledge a sweeping overhaul of FIFA for which the way is to be paved through a wide-ranging reform package long demanded by critics including major FIFA sponsors.

They include sweeping changes in governance include a new role for the president, term limits for top officials, replacing the executive committee with a council which will not have executive powers, greater transparency overall and the inclusion of stakeholders.

But for some the changes are not wide-ranging enough, and the top presidential candidates also not the right men.

Human rights groups have attacked Sheikh Salman for alleged involvement in arrests and possible torture of player in connection with pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011, which he has denied.

Infantino is seen by some as a man of the old system, with Platini as mentor, and Platini once a protege of Blatter.

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