Half of football fans worldwide do not believe Fifa can ever restore its tattered reputation, according to a poll released before this week’s presidential election.
As the last-ditch electioneering continued, Uefa’s general secretary, Gianni Infantino, claimed to have the backing of more than half of Africa’s 54 voters as he seeks to rattle his main rival, the Asian Football Confederation’s president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa.
The Bahraini has already secured the official backing of the Confederation of African Football but Infantino, meeting with another rival, Tokyo Sexwale, in South Africa, insisted he had won the backing of the majority of African associations.
Infantino’s claim is significant because if true, in light of the fact voters often promise their backing to more than one candidate, it would hugely boost his chances of victory. “I will make an impact. I will have a majority of the African votes,” he said on a trip to Robben Island, where Sexwale had been imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela.
“In the discussions I’ve had with many African [football] presidents, I can say I feel very confident,” he said.
Meanwhile, there was also a reminder of the long shadow the US and Swiss criminal investigations are casting over the five-way contest. In its annual report HSBC confirmed on Monday it had received inquiries from the US Department of Justice regarding “certain individuals and entities that are or may be associated with Fifa”.
The global bank added: “The DoJ is investigating whether multiple financial institutions, including HSBC, permitted the processing of suspicious or otherwise improper transactions, or failed to observe applicable [anti-money laundering] laws and regulations. HSBC is cooperating with the DoJ’s investigation.”
Other banks are believed to be similarly co-operating. Fifa insiders are bracing themselves in case the US department, which precipitated Fifa’s collapse with May’s indictment and arrests, or the Swiss authorities, plan further action this week. According to the Transparency International poll, carried out on its behalf by Football Addicts, almost seven in 10 fans have no confidence in world football’s crisis-hit governing body. In the UK, that figure was 76%.
Mistrust was highest in Chile, Argentina, Ireland, South Korea and Spain, while fans in Thailand, Japan, Russia, South Africa and Qatar were most likely to say they still had confidence in Fifa.
Asked to choose from the list of five candidates who will contest the election – the favourites Infantino and Sheikh Salman, the former Fifa executive Jérôme Champagne, the Jordanian Prince Ali bin al-Hussein and the South African Sexwale – six in 10 of those polled chose “one of the above”.
The scale of the challenge facing Fifa in restoring any degree of public trust is reflected in the poll’s findings. Gareth Sweeney, editor of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report: Sport, said that if a package of reforms wasn’t passed on Friday ahead of the presidential vote it would further damage its credibility. “If the reforms don’t go through or are further watered down, then it will be clear that Fifa does not want to change,” he said.
Transparency International was engaged by the suspended Fifa president Sepp Blatter to help with reform proposals in 2011 but cut its ties in frustration months later after its proposals were ignored.
Infantino, who has repeatedly denied any sort of deal or pact with Sheikh Salman, said he would recommend the latest reform proposals – broadly welcomed but criticised for their lack of independent oversight – to Fifa’s members. “I am entering these final days of the campaign with a real sense of momentum for a new beginning and optimism for the election and for the future,” said Infantino. This is truly a crossroads moment for football’s world governing body.”
Infantino, who entered the race when the Uefa president Michel Platini was forced to step aside before being banned for eight years, has received the backing of Uefa while Sheikh Salman claims the support of the AFC and the Confederation of African Football.
But bloc votes are not expected to be as strong as in previous Fifa elections, adding an extra layer of unpredictability. Sheikh Salman’s team have strenuously denied a flurry of rumours that he was considering standing down from the race.
The Bahraini favourite, who has strenuously denied any involvement in identifying footballers involved in pro-democracy protests in 2011, has previously said it would be preferable if the candidates came to an agreement before the election.
The rumours accompanied his decision not to travel to Kuala Lumpur to hear Fifa’s reform plans presented to his own confederation, instead preferring to remain in Zurich. In his absence, Infantino travelled to Malaysia to meet Asian delegates.
Friday’s vote is expected to go beyond the first round, when a two thirds majority is required.
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