Platini's Right-Hand-Man Makes Surprise Run for FIFA Presidency

  • Asian soccer head Salman also jumps in ahead of deadline
  • Election to replace Sepp Blatter is scheduled for Feb. 26

In a last-minute twist befitting the ongoing crisis at FIFA and the race to become its next leader, European soccer’s old guard has thrown another candidate into the fray.

Gianni Infantino, the right-hand-man to suspended European soccer head Michel Platini, has joined the race for the presidency just hours before the deadline for nominations passed. Platini had been widely seen as the favorite to replace Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, but Platini is barred from the election until he clears his name with FIFA’s internal ethics committee.

Infantino, the general secretary of UEFA, had not talked publicly about running for soccer’s top job before today’s announcement. It is possible that, if Platini is cleared ahead of the election, Infantino might stand down to make way for his boss.

"I am very proud of what we have achieved at UEFA and the way in which we conduct ourselves as an organization," Infantino said in a statement declaring his candidacy Monday. "The values at the heart of UEFA are shared by many in the global football family."

The elections come amid the biggest crisis in FIFA’s 111-year history, which started with a U.S. Department of Justice indictment several FIFA leaders and sports marketing executives of “rampant” corruption. Further allegations have surfaced, including an investigation by Swiss prosecutors into Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, FIFA’s president since 1998.

There were two other last-minute entrants today, bringing the field to seven: Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Asian Football Confederation president, and little-known Musa Bility of Liberia. Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who lost to Blatter in May’s election, Tokyo Sexwale, a South African businessman and former political prisoner, Jerome Champagne, a former Blatter aide, and David Nakhid, a former player from Trinidad and Tobago, have also declared their candidacies.

All the candidates must pass an integrity test led by FIFA’s independent compliance head, Domenico Scala. The final slate of candidates cleared to run will probably be announced next month.

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