The Football Association has officially backed Gianni Infantino’s campaign for the Fifa presidency following a board meeting, with Greg Dyke describing the Swiss as an impressive candidate and reiterating doubts about a rival bid from Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa.
Infantino, the Uefa general secretary, stepped into the Fifa race last year when Michel Platini – the former president of the European governing body whom the FA had previously supported – was banned from football for eight years. Infantino will be one of five presidential candidates at the election on 26 February, but the successor to Sepp Blatter is expected to be a two-horse race between him and Sheikh Salman of Bahrain.
Infantino has proposed to expand the World Cup to 40 teams and hopes to encourage future bids for the tournament from regions rather than one or two nations. The 45-year-old will vie for the Fifa presidency alongside Salman, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, the French former Fifa executive Jérôme Champagne and the South African Tokyo Sexwale.
Dyke, the outgoing chairman who also proposed to the FA council a number of potential reforms to its method of governance on Wednesday, is concerned that Salman is not a suitable candidate because he is from Bahrain. The Asian Football Confederation president has been blighted by questions over his alleged involvement in a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 2011, something he denies, when 150 athletes were reportedly detained in the country and some of them allegedly tortured.
“I personally have a problem with Sheikh Salman,” Dyke said. “I don’t think anyone from Bahrain should be president of Fifa. Given what has happened in Bahrain in recent years, given their attitude to human rights, there is no doubt that footballers in Bahrain were put in prison and tortured because they didn’t agree with the regime.
“I’m quite happy to accept the Sheikh wasn’t part of that, but he still comes from Bahrain and I just think that is completely the wrong message for world football. It’s [the Fifa presidency] a tough job for whoever wins because what you really need is a reform programme. A reform programme is much more important than who the president is.”
Infantino, who has the backing of Europe, also wants to increase the use of video technology, limit terms for officials to 12 years and significantly increase the amount of income Fifa receives on investing in development projects.
Elsewhere, Fifa’s ethics committee has fined and warned the German former World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer for not cooperating with investigations into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Beckenbauer was fined 7,000 Swiss francs (around £4,900).
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