FIFA confirms 4 contenders for presidential election race

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GENEVA (AP) — Three men remain in contention to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency.

FIFA's election oversight panel confirmed Monday that Blatter and three rivals — Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, Michael van Praag of the Netherlands and former Portugal great Luis Figo — are now being vetted to become formal candidates after the close of nominations.

A potential fifth contender, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne, failed to secure the required five nominations. He said only three of FIFA's 209 member federations nominated him by last Thursday's deadline.

The four contenders will now undergo integrity checks by FIFA's ethics committee, and have their nomination papers scrutinized by the oversight panel.

The election panel expects to "formally admit and declare the candidates who are eligible for the office of FIFA President" in about two weeks.

The election will be held May 29 at FIFA's congress in Zurich.

Blatter, who will turn 79 before election day, is seeking a fifth term in office to extend his 17-year reign.

The veteran Swiss official, who has worked for FIFA since 1975, is strongly favored to win. UEFA, which has 53 voting members, is the only one among six continental bodies actively opposing Blatter.

The campaign kicks off largely as Blatter vs. European interests.

Prince Ali and Figo have been encouraged to run by UEFA and its president, Michel Platini, while Van Praag is a member of UEFA's executive committee.

Champagne criticized Platini, who decided last August not to run against former mentor Blatter.

"The script of the next few weeks and months calls for proxy candidates to wage the battles that others did not have the courage to fight," said Champagne, whose departure as FIFA international relations director in 2010 was forced in part by Platini.

Of the four contenders, only Van Praag has so far set out specific ideas.

The 67-year-old Dutch federation president has called for expanding the 32-team World Cup to include more non-European teams, and has promised to serve just a single four-year term to modernize FIFA.

Van Praag has asked Blatter to step aside and has offered him an advisory role, including running a charitable foundation to give less privileged children opportunities in football.

Dutch great Johan Cruyff on Monday described former Ajax president Van Praag as "somebody you can count on."

In his column Monday in top-selling Dutch daily De Telegraaf, Cruyff wrote he is watching the FIFA presidential campaign "from the sidelines," but "if Van Praag asks for my support, he'll get it."

Four years ago, Blatter suggested Cruyff join a proposed council of FIFA advisers alongside Henry Kissinger and Placido Domingo. The idea was dropped.

Prince Ali, the FIFA vice president for Asia, is uncertain of widespread support in his home region. The Asian Football Confederation has long stated its support for Blatter.

The prince is scheduled to host a campaign launch in London on Tuesday.

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