ZURICH (AP) — Insisting his $1 billion financial pledges are affordable, FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino on Wednesday countered rival Sheikh Salman's claim that he would bankrupt soccer's governing body.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Infantino said that by repairing FIFA's scandal-battered image he will attract new sponsors to fund a proposal to hike cash handouts to the 209 member federations.
"To all 209 associations, be sure that what is promised there is not only feasible but is easy to deliver and FIFA will be as financially stable as never before," Infantino said ahead of Friday's election. "My objective is also to increase significantly the revenues of FIFA. I think my track record in UEFA speaks for itself in this respect."
Infantino is offering each of FIFA's members $5 million to invest in development projects and running costs — a huge increase on the $2.05 million per federation from 2011-14 — and another $1 million, if required, for travel, which would be attractive to small nations in remote regions.
Additionally, each of the six confederations will be handed $40 million to invest in development projects, and their regional offshoots in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America can request another $4 million to organize youth tournaments.
FIFA vice president Sheikh Salman told the AP on Wednesday that "in three years we would be bankrupt" if Infantino was able to lavish extra cash on federations while the governing body is struggling financially. FIFA will be required to dip into cash reserves of $1.523 billion as it faces a deficit forecast to be $560 million in the 2015-18 World Cup cycle, according to Sheikh Salman.
"Once FIFA's image and reputation has been rebuilt it will be easier to generate more revenue and have more funds at our disposal for development of football, which is what FIFA should do to start with," Infantino said, in response to Sheikh Salman, in an interview in Zurich.
As European soccer's top administrator, Infantino ensured UEFA not only weathered the worst of the post-2008 global financial crisis but almost tripled revenue.
"If there is one thing I know about it is figures," said Infantino, who has been at UEFA since 2000 and general secretary since 2009. "I know how much it costs to organize a World Cup because I know how much it costs to organize the Euros. I know how much it costs to run an administration like FIFA because I know how much it costs to run the administration of UEFA and it's a similar size.
"When I propose these things and when I propose these development funds and grants, not only am I sure and confident it can be delivered but this will be easy to deliver. When you generate only $5 billion to distribute $1.2 or $1.3 billion is easy. My goal is to do much more. My goal is give 50 percent of FIFA's revenue to the national associations."
Infantino is in the five-man election contest as a substitute for Michel Platini after the UEFA president was banned for eight years for unethical conduct. Now Infantino is even adopting the language once used by the former France captain, who saw becoming FIFA president as his calling in his post-playing career.
"Until five months ago I was never thinking about being in this campaign but somehow it was a destiny," said Infantino, a Swiss-Italian. "It was a destiny to do it and when I embark on something I do it with 200 percent.
"What I have learned is there are many people around the world who live football, who breathe football, love football and organize football often in very, very difficult situations and conditions. And we have to be there to help them."
First, the 45-year-old Infantino has to emerge victorious from Friday's vote. Asian soccer confederation President Sheikh Salman is currently considered the favorite.
While Infantino has regularly flaunted endorsements — boasting about 70 vote pledges so far — Sheikh Salman has avoided providing a public list of backers.
The executive committee of the Asian and African confederations have backed the sheikh's candidacy, but there is no guarantee the 98 nations in those regions which are eligible to vote would follow their regional leadership.
Infantino claims to have the backing of half of Africa's 54 members, while the 10-member South American bloc has already championed his candidacy. But Paraguayan federation president Ramon Gonzalez said this week in Zurich that CONMEBOL would "reach an agreement in our next meeting" on Thursday and didn't reaffirm the pledge to vote for Infantino.
"I'm very confident on CONMEBOL," Infantino said. "I've discussed with each and every one of the presidents there.
"So, I have absolutely no doubt the 10 associations in CONMEBOL are supporting me. We speak the same language. I know them and they know me — together we can do many good things for football. So I have full trust in them."
That is the crux of the predicament for candidates following public posturing.
"I trust the people I have met," Infantino said. "This makes me feel very confident about the election."
Former FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale are also in the running.
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