The Sepp Blatter era at FIFA is set to finally end Friday when soccer’s scandal-scarred world body picks a new president after nine months of crisis.
An election meeting designed to give FIFA a fresh start with a new leader could yet be overshadowed by its criminally corrupt past.
Voters return to Zurich this week unsure who is the next target of federal law enforcement agencies in the United States and Switzerland, who have sent FIFA into meltdown with waves of arrests, extraditions and guilty pleas.
Swiss prosecutors could decide this week is best to meet key witnesses in their widening case. Many soccer officials are making possibly their last working trip to Switzerland until May 2019, when the next scheduled FIFA election should be held in Zurich.
At the last election in May, Blatter won a fifth presidential term two days after FIFA’s favored five-star hotel in Zurich and its own headquarters were raided. The pressure of criminal investigations soon forced Blatter from his beloved FIFA in his 41st year on the payroll.
Now, leaders of FIFA’s 209 member federations visit the tiny Swiss city again to elect a successor for the now-banned 79-year-old who has been president since 1998. The winner will be just the fourth elected FIFA chief in more than 50 years.
Two front-runners have emerged in a five-candidate contest: Asia’s soccer leader, Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, and Gianni Infantino, the Swiss general secretary of European governing body UEFA.
The other candidates are: Former FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan, who lost to Blatter in May; former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France; and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, once an inmate of Robben Island prison with Nelson Mandela.
Infantino acknowledged that police could hit FIFA for the fourth time in nine months.
“They know what is best for their work to be done in the most efficient way,” Infantino told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “If I’m elected president of FIFA, what they can count on (is) not 100 but 200 percent with me to clean and to put anyone in jail who has done anything bad for football.”
The three previous strikes — arresting seven men, including two FIFA vice presidents, on May 27; interrogating Blatter and former protege Michel Platini on Sept. 25; arresting two more FIFA vice presidents on Dec. 3 — were on days that FIFA’s discredited executive committee met. It meets again Wednesday.
Sheikh Salman suggests government agencies have tried to influence FIFA politics. That view is shared by Blatter and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed the U.S. wants the 2018 World Cup taken from his country.