Mobiles banned from FIFA voting booths to ensure secrecy
By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - Mobile phones and cameras will be banned from polling booths at next week's FIFA presidential election to ensure each vote remains secret, one of the candidates said on Wednesday.
Frenchman Jerome Champagne said he raised the issue with the electoral committee because he was concerned some voters had come under pressure to photograph their ballot papers to prove they had taken part.
FIFA's 209 member national associations (FAs) each hold one vote. Five candidates are standing to replace outgoing president Sepp Blatter, banned for eight years amid a widening graft scandal that has shaken world football's ruling body.
The six continental confederations do not vote but four of them have nominated their preferred candidates.
Champagne said he wrote to Domenico Scala, head of the electoral committee, on Monday to say that "FIFA member associations and their leaders are under intense pressure to determine their vote on Feb. 26.
"Past experience, as well as the information currently circulating, is showing that in order to assure compliance with directives, voting members are being required to take pictures of their voting form with a mobile phone," he added.
In the reply seen by Reuters, Scala said all delegates would be reminded "the use of mobile phones, cameras or other electronic equipment suited to record the voting process are not permitted in the voting booths".
It added that "ballot papers will only be handed out to delegates once they are in the voting booths".
Champagne told Reuters he was "satisfied with the answer by the electoral committee. It is a concern, it is important I know and I'm sure I'm not the only candidate who has raised this issue".
European football's governing body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL have backed Gianni Infantino as president while Asia's AFC and Africa's CAF have put their weight behind Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
However, as long as voting is secret, member FAs can ignore their continental body's recommendations without being found out.
Last week another candidate, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, spoke of reprisals being meted out to FAs that did not toe the political line.
"Development projects mysteriously stall; tournament hosting bids are suddenly compromised or withdrawn; national teams start to mysteriously face less favourable fixtures or and even referees," he said.
"All of these are effective ways to punish member associations that fail to demonstrate political loyalty."
The other presidential candidate next week is South African Tokyo Sexwale.
Last week CAF issued a statement that included a comment from the head of the South Sudan FA, Chabur Goc Alei, where he apologised for expressing support for "another candidate" other than Salman.
"We would like to apologise to all member associations of CAF and our candidate for the FIFA presidency Sheikh Salman," he was quoted as saying.
Champagne said he had also heard some FAs had come under government pressure at home over their votes.
"I know cases of federations who, out of the blue, received a phone call from the ministry of foreign affairs of their own country," he said.
"It's one of the principles of the Olympic charter and the FIFA statutes to have the decision within football not influenced by external parties."
When contacted by Reuters, a spokesman for FIFA's electoral committee said they did not comment on remarks by candidates.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)