MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) - At least 26 African countries will defy their continental confederation and not vote for Sheikh Salman of Bahrain in the FIFA presidential election, the outspoken head of the Liberia soccer federation said Monday.
Musa Bility, who himself failed an integrity check to stand in the Feb. 26 election, said he had spoken to representatives of nearly half of Confederation of African Football members.
“Let me tell you” they won’t back Salman, Bility told The Associated Press.
Liberia Football Association President Bility also said he had sent a letter to the head of FIFA’s election committee demanding he step down over a “conflict of interest.” Domenico Scala should resign because he has the same Swiss nationality as one of the candidates, UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino, Bility said.
“None of the admitted candidates has raised this matter to date, which makes it evident that Mr. Scala’s impartiality is not put in question by any of them,” FIFA ad-hoc election committee spokesman Andreas Bantel said.
On Friday, Sheikh Salman, the Asian Football Confederation president, was publicly endorsed in the FIFA election by CAF, apparently a major boost to his chances. CAF urged its 54 member countries to vote for the Bahraini royal.
Africa, with the largest number of voting members out of the continental confederations, is set to be a significant battleground in the vote.
But Bility’s comments followed assertions by some of Salman’s rival candidates that an endorsement by CAF’s executive committee does not translate into widespread support among the confederation’s member countries.
“As a nation we have the right (to vote for who we want),” Bility said on Monday. “Our rights are not tied with the rights of the executive committee of CAF.”
Bility’s association announced in the hours after CAF’s public show of support for Sheikh Salman that it would instead be voting for Prince Ali of Jordan. Prince Ali said Egypt had also promised him its vote, while South Sudan declared its support for Infantino.
There are five candidates in the running to succeed Sepp Blatter. Salman, Infantino, Ali, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale. Salman and Infantino appear to be the strongest contenders.
Also Monday, six Central European federations confirmed their support for Infantino.
Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Poland, and Slovakia will vote for the UEFA secretary general, according to Austria federation president Leo Windtner.
“Our candidate is Gianni Infantino. That’s obvious. We discussed it extensively today,” Windtner said following an annual meeting of the six federations.
Windtner called on all European federations to back Infantino in the five-candidate race.
“Fact is that in the past UEFA has not always acted as a unity, has acted without a clear strategy,” Windtner said. “So it will be necessary to act together toward the FIFA congress as there are some very respectable other candidates from other confederations.”
In January, UEFA gave strong but not total support for its secretary general’s quest.
Infantino can count on a big majority of the 53 European federations for FIFA votes, having served as their top administrator since 2009.
However, Malta has said it will vote for Prince Ali, who got votes from across Europe when he lost to Blatter 133-73 in May, and other UEFA members have publicly expressed doubts about Infantino.
The six federations have not yet discussed which candidate would be their second preference if Infantino didn’t make it beyond the first round of voting.
A two-thirds majority of eligible voters is required to win in the first round, and a simple majority will clinch the presidency in subsequent rounds.
Hungary federation president Sandor Csanyi, a UEFA executive committee member, said he was “sure that during the first round Gianni will be among the ones who got the most votes so Gianni will be in the second round.”
The Central European federations started their annual meetings in 2012 to exchange ideas on national and international issues in football, and strengthen their joint voice in UEFA matters.
AP writer Eric Willemsen in Vienna contributed to this report.
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