PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - In a move that will encourage opponents of Sepp Blatter in May's FIFA presidential election, CONCACAF said on Thursday they will not push their members to vote as a block.
Jeffrey Webb, president of the confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean told Reuters he is comfortable with the idea of associations voting for different candidates.
In a break with past practice in the region, which has long been a stronghold of support for Blatter, national associations will be given the freedom to back candidates as they see fit.
"I don't think that CONCACAF is going to come out (for a single candidate)," said Webb. "CONCACAF doesn't have a vote, it's the members that have a vote. Each individual country has an opportunity to vote for who their membership support."
As a further sign of the change in approach, former Portugal winger Luis Figo, one of the three candidates standing against Blatter at the May 29 election, attended the body's executive committee in Philadelphia.
Last week, CONCACAF officials also met with Dutch Football Association President Michael van Praag, who along with Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein make up the other two candidates.
"We will discuss it and give them an informed view as far as how we see the landscape in terms of - number one what is in the best interests of the game and number two what is in the best interests of CONCACAF," said Webb.
"We have countries that nominated President Blatter, we have countries that nominated Prince Ali. I actually think competition is good.
"At the end of the day it is a popularity contest and in the end it comes down to relationships," added Cayman Islander Webb, who is also a FIFA vice president.
Webb has backed Blatter in the past but was careful with his words when asked directly if he was still publicly supporting the 79-year-old Swiss.
"For me personally, we will go through a process on May 29, we will see how it goes." said Webb, who took over CONCACAF in 2012 from Jack Warner after the key Blatter ally was linked to a cash-for-votes scandal.
Figo has hit the road in search of votes internationally and was feeling optimistic after meeting with members of the South American confederation CONMEBOL last week.
"Of course none of us can guarantee any kind of votes or support and we are going to have to wait," Figo told Reuters. "As each day is passing I am more and more confident regarding my manifesto and the feedback I am getting from people."
Figo also said he was impressed by the welcome he received from CONCACAF officials.
"Its been very positive," said Figo, who added that CONCACAF's past support for Blatter was no obstacle. "All the executive committee and president (Jeffrey Webb) were very kind. I am very happy with the welcome that they gave to me."
"It is time for change. Of course, I am realistic regarding what has happened in the past but we have to look forward and we have to look towards the future of the game."
Van Praag recently said that Figo couldn't beat Blatter and would be better throwing his support behind his bid.
Not surprisingly, the former Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder was unimpressed.
“I'm not aware of that, it is just some news," said Figo. "I am a global candidate and I am putting all my energies and focus on seeing all of the confederations and try to convince them what is important for the future."
Editing by Frank Pingue