February 23, 2016

ZURICH (AP) Sheikh Salman raised the stakes in the FIFA presidential election Tuesday by contending that rival Gianni Infantino's plan to significantly increase cash payouts to federations would bankrupt football's troubled governing body as it faces a $560 million deficit.

Although FIFA reported cash reserves of $1.523 billion in 2014, far-reaching criminal investigations into football officials over the last year have thwarted attempts to replace sponsors, and legal fees have escalated as the organization tries to avoid being dragged down by the scandals.

FIFA is not scheduled to publish its 2015 financial report until next month, but Sheikh Salman - a member of its finance committee - revealed the expected losses for the 2015-18 World Cup cycle in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press ahead of Friday's election to succeed Sepp Blatter.

''The expected deficit for the next four years is 560 (million dollars) - this is going to be withdrawn from the reserves,'' Salman, a Bahraini royal, told the AP. ''If you are a chair of a company that is making losses and you say you are going to distribute dividends to your shareholders, it doesn't make sense.''

In his campaign program, Sheikh Salman has pledged to only distribute FIFA funds for specific football projects in countries most in need of assistance. But Infantino has committed to offering each of FIFA's 209 members $5 million to invest in development projects and running costs - a huge increase on the $2.05 million per federation from 2011-14 - on top of other payouts.

''I think in three years we (FIFA) would be bankrupt - that's how it is,'' Salman said. ''Every person can see this cannot happen. The numbers do not match at all ... you cannot make promises that you cannot keep.''

''It's not up to the elected president to make such a risky decision as well,'' he added. ''What kind of democracy and what kind of organization should be run by one man?''

With the priority of safeguarding FIFA's finances, Salman expects federation heads to accept that cash cannot be freely dispersed.

''They know FIFA as an organization, that it's not as it was before,'' Salman said. ''So the priorities are different. We have to look after our own home and make sure that it's functioning in the right way before we move on to the others.''

If Infantino wins Friday's five-man vote, Salman would try to block the UEFA general secretary from distributing funds as planned.

''If I am not elected as president I will still be a FIFA vice president and I will always do what is right for the organization to maintain that support for other countries as well,'' Salman said.

Salman, who is also Asian Football Confederation president, disclosed that he already has new commercial backers lined up.

''I know a few sponsors that are ready which have not signed (to) a contract yet who are ready to sign once I'm elected,'' Salman said.

Salman and Infantino are the front-runners for Friday's election, with Prince Ali of Jordan, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale considered to be outsiders.

The five candidates are due to gather on Wednesday for a briefing from FIFA ahead of its second presidential election in a year due to Blatter's resignation.

Here are other campaign issues Salman discussed during a 40-minute interview:

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Salman has repeatedly denied having any role in Bahraini footballers being identified and arrested during a 2011 crackdown on pro-democracy protests by the government led by his family. But both the English and German federations said they would not vote for Salman over human rights concerns.

''I won't accept them judging me about those accusations,'' Salman said. ''To go on something further than football, I don't think this is just and fair ... I will continue to have good relations with them. I don't take it personally.''

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FIFA INVESTIGATIONS

The presidential election last May was the trigger for American and Swiss authorities to break cover with their investigation into football officials, arresting FIFA vice presidents and other officials in Zurich before the vote. Another wave of corruption arrests took place at the same hotel before a December meeting.

''We don't want to see a PR stunt as well again,'' Salman said, warning that football officials could shun Zurich in future if there are arrests this week.

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PRINCE ALI'S COMPLAINT

The former FIFA vice president asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport to suspend the vote after his request for the use of transparent voting booths was rejected. CAS will respond by Thursday.

''We had the election last May and nobody complained about the voting booths ... why hasn't he complained before?'' Salman said. ''Some people will always bring some excuses. I think he's just preparing for Friday's result.''

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2026 WORLD CUP

FIFA had hoped federations would vote next year on the 2026 World Cup host but those plans were stymied by the corruption scandals. Given that FIFA's priority in 2018 is the Russia World Cup before another presidential election in 2019, Salman believes the 2026 decision could be left until 2020.

''In 2017 I think it will be difficult,'' he said. ''The timing is going to be very tight.''

Controversy still surrounds the vote that gave Russia the 2018 tournament and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and Salman said it is important ''we chose a venue everyone is happy with.''

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Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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