Blatter joins FIFA election race without naming nominees

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GENEVA (AP) — Beating the entry deadline by hours on Thursday, Sepp Blatter formally joined a FIFA presidential contest he is widely expected to win.

Blatter published a low-key message on Twitter confirming an expected bid to extend his scandal-scarred, 17-year leadership of football's wealthy governing body by four more years.

"Today is a key date in the electoral calendar. I've made my submission, now the electoral committee follow a process," wrote Blatter, who is headed to the Asian Cup final in Sydney on Saturday.

Blatter could travel with confidence, knowing Asia is home to some of his most loyal supporters. A majority of FIFA's 209 member federations seem content to overlook allegations of tainted elections and World Cup hosting bids while FIFA pays increasing bonuses from tournament profits with $1.5 billion in reserve.

Still, Blatter could be seated for the Australia vs. South Korea final close to two FIFA vice presidents plotting against him.

Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan has declared his intention to stand, while UEFA President Michel Platini is central to Europe-led efforts opposing Blatter, including supporting the prince's campaign.

Europe's anti-Blatter strategy intensified on Wednesday when Portugal great Luis Figo became a surprise contender, and UEFA executive committee Michael van Praag of the Netherlands set out manifesto highlights including the clearest incentive yet for voters.

Van Praag's plan for expanding the 32-team World Cup — FIFA's cash cow — to include more non-European teams hinted at what football's richest continent must do to persuade other regions about Blatter and FIFA's damaged image.

Launching his progressive views in Amsterdam, the Dutch federation president also became the first contender to identify his five nominating countries as demanded by FIFA election rules. Van Praag has support from Belgium, Faeroe Islands, Romania, Scotland and Sweden.

Two more European contenders — both French, and operating outside UEFA's influence — have sought nominations by the 2300 GMT deadline.

Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA international relations director and longtime Blatter ally, has published the most detailed manifesto, while former player David Ginola has been discredited by being paid 250,000 pounds ($380,000) to run by a betting firm sponsor. Although Ginola insisted in a statement that he was "not out" of the presidential race, his website was stripped of all campaign content on Thursday and no nominations were disclosed ahead of the deadline.

It could be two weeks before the official field of Blatter opponents is confirmed.

FIFA has created an election oversight panel, led by its audit committee chairman Domenico Scala, which will validate nomination papers and receive vetting reports from FIFA's ethics committee

Those integrity checks could have been led by Michael Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who resigned in protest last month at the handling of his investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid contests, won by Russia and Qatar.

Garcia cited FIFA's "lack of leadership" in a resignation statement which left no doubt he viewed Blatter as a barrier to progress. This, despite the 78-year-old Swiss making anti-corruption reforms central to his fourth presidential term since a June 2011 re-election amid a bribery scandal implicating his Qatari opponent.

"No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization," Garcia wrote.

Blatter's last re-election — and a famous campaign promise made to European soccer leaders — is key to understanding the current contest.

At the UEFA Congress in Paris in March 2011, Blatter pledged his current four-year mandate would be his last. At the same meeting, Platini was re-elected unopposed as Europe's top soccer official and seemed anointed to succeed Blatter, his soccer politics mentor, in four years' times.

Blatter slowly shifted his position, to Platini's evident frustration, until the France great announced last August he would not seek the FIFA presidency.

Now, Blatter likely faces a group of Platini's associates, though it is unclear if all will stay on the ballot paper.

"There is no candidate of UEFA, as a matter of fact," its general secretary Gianni Infantino said on Monday. "We are very positive for any credible candidate coming forward and making the debate."

Candidates will seek support at FIFA confederation meetings scheduled in Asuncion, Paraguay; Vienna; Cairo; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the Cayman Islands.

On May 29, FIFA members will return to Zurich where 186 voted for Blatter four years ago.

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