Page 24 - End of an era for FIFA

CONGRESS: FIFA presidential candidate, Gianni Infantino, of Switzerland, departs from the CONCACAF Extraordinary Congress held at the Renaissance hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, Thursday, Feb. 25. Candidates are making their final pitches to secure votes for the election to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. AP

GENEVA — The Sepp Blatter era at FIFA is set to finally end as soccer's scandal-scarred world body picks a new president after nine months of crisis.

But 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 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.

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 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.

The 209 members can also vote through wide-ranging reforms to restructure FIFA. These would dilute the president's authority, empower FIFA's staff and increase oversight by independent experts.