NYON: Gianni Infantino has cautioned FIFA’s 209 national associations that “a huge amount is at stake” at Friday’s extraordinary congress in Zurich writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Congress will be voting on a package of essential structural and governance reforms before the election for a new president to succeed disgraced and banned Sepp Blatter at the head of the world football federation.

The reforms are probably more important than the identity of the new president. Without the essential three-quarters-majority vote for change FIFA itself – rather than a gaggle of individuals – will be at the mercy of Swiss and United States criminal investigators.

Infantino, 45-year-old Swiss general secretary of European federation UEFA, is one of five candidates along with Prince Ali bin Al Hussein (Jordan), Jerome Champagne (France), Sheikh Salman bin Ebhrahim at Khalifa (Bahrain, head of the Asian confederation) and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.

He issued his statement from South Africa where he was shown around the old Robben Island prison site by rival FIFA candidate Tokyo Sexwale who had been jailed there alongside Nelson Mandela.

In a rallying call to supporters and encouragement to possible supporters, Infantino described the week ahead as “the most significant in FIFA’s 112-year history.”

The worldwide image of FIFA has been dragged through the mud by an apparently never-ending string of scandals and controversies with no certainty that there is not more bad news and bleak headlines to come.

Infantino said he believed that positive decisions on Friday “can set FIFA on a new path of trust, respect and commercial growth.”

He said: “To set foot on this path of renewal FIFA’s member associations have the opportunity to embrace the future with a real belief in their next president and a confidence in his ability to steer the organisation and its members into much better times.”

Then, turning to his own candidacy, he added: “I believe I am that person – a candidate of genuine reform, rooted in integrity with a real vision for the future – and with proven experience to bring growth and development to the benefit the whole football family.

“A huge amount is at stake and, after travelling the world meeting with associations from every part of the globe, I know that football is ready to look forward with determination and confidence.

“I would be proud if elected President on Friday to help steer FIFA into a new era of growth, investment and respect, acting always in the interests of football, bringing football back to the heart of FIFA.”

Infantino said he had been encouraged by his whistle-stop visit to southern Africa to believe that he would sweep a significant number of African votes – which front-runner candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has also claimed.

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