Sheikh Salman takes aim at Gianni Infantino's FIFA plan

Sheikh Salman claims Gianni Infantino's plan as FIFA president would bankrupt the organization.
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ZURICH (AP) — FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman supports the crackdown on corruption in world football, but doesn't want it overshadowing the elections this week.

"We don't want to see a PR stunt," Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of Friday's elections.

Swiss police arrested seven football officials — including two FIFA vice presidents — during high-profile dawn raids on a Zurich hotel two days before last May's presidential election, acting on behalf of American authorities investigating football corruption.

Revelations about the scale of bribery and racketeering in football sent the sport's governing body into meltdown and sparked Sepp Blatter's resignation four days after he'd won another term as president.

Now FIFA is two days away from electing Blatter's successor, Sheikh Salman is among the favorites in the five-man field.

The Bahraini royal told AP he'd prefer corrupt officials to be arrested in their home countries rather than during visits to Switzerland on FIFA business.

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"To choose an election day (to arrest visiting officials), I don't think that's fair," he said. "It's going to send the wrong signals to all the members and people won't be happy that FIFA is going to be targeted in that way."

Sheikh Salman is concerned that officials from FIFA's 209 member nations will "not feel safe coming to Zurich for a congress."

Several FIFA executive committee members have been among those implicated since the U.S. Department of Justice investigation became public knowledge in May.

But most of the misconduct in the lengthy U.S. indictments relates to financial crimes in the confederations covering North and South America rather than within FIFA's headquarters in Zurich.

"It's difficult to identity who is right, who is wrong, who is corrupt, who is not, if he is 4 or 6,000 miles away," Sheikh Salman, who is also president of the Asian Football Confederation, said when asked about how football leaders could be trusted.

Sheikh Salman now appears to be in a close tussle with UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino to gain the FIFA leadership in Friday's vote.

Breaking from the all-powerful presidential era of Blatter, Salman wants to be a non-executive president who delegates power as FIFA tries to rebuild from the deepest crisis in its 112-year history.

"I don't want the risk to the whole organization," he said. "We have to be optimistic... I don't think it can get worse."

Finances could become an issue.

Raising the election stakes, Sheikh Salman revealed that FIFA faces a $560 million deficit in the 2015-2018 World Cup cycle and contended that Infantino's proposal to significantly increase cash payouts to federations would bankrupt the governing body.

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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.

The 2015 financial report is not due to be published until next month, but Sheikh Salman — a member of FIFA's finance committee — revealed the expected losses and said FIFA would be forced to dig into its reserves.

In his campaign program, he 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 big 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," Sheikh Salman said of Infantino's manifesto pledges. "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?

"The other three candidates — former FIFA VP Prince Ali of Jordan, ex-FIFA official Jerome Champagne and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale — will join Sheikh Salman and Infantino on Wednesday for a briefing from FIFA ahead of its second presidential election in a year.