FIFA announced on Wednesday that the deadline for voting for the 2013 Ballon d’Or has been extended to Nov. 29.
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The decision has been viewed in Spain as a ploy to favour Cristiano Ronaldo over other leading contenders such as Lionel Messi, Franck Ribery and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, after the Portugal captain's hat trick against Sweden sealed his nation's place at next year's World Cup finals in Brazil.
The deadline for coaches and captains of national team and participating journalists to submit their top three choices had been Friday Nov. 15, hours after the World Cup qualifier playoff first legs had finished, and Bayern Munich's Ribery was then the clear favourite in the betting to take a first award.
However, that date has now been extended to Friday Nov. 29, and votes can be changed to take into account recent performances -- such as Ronaldo's spectacular hat trick on Tuesday against Sweden which clinched Portugal's place at next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil.
Mundo Deportivo's Francesc Aguilar, who reportedly has a vote in the ballot, broke the news during Tuesday's matches with a series of tweets that suggested he suspected a conspiracy led by FIFA, which has since confirmed the change of deadline.
"I have no words," Aguilar tweeted. "FIFA and France Football have extended the period of voting to Nov. 29 2013. First the jury had to have voted by at least the 15th of this month. The second legs for Brazil 2014 were not included. That was just as unfair as this change is suspicious. Bit by bit FIFA are ruining the Ballon d'Or with the decisions which are taking place. You do not need to be a genius to see that this decision to extend the voting period for the FIFA Ballon d'Or benefits CR7."
1. No tengo palabras.La FIFA y France Football amplían el plazo para las votaciones al 29 de noviembre de 2013.En principio los— Francesc Aguilar (@MDpor_elmundo) November 19, 2013
2.jurados debían jhaber votao como máximo el 15 de este mes. No entraban los partidos de desempate para Brasil 2014. Era tan injusto lo— Francesc Aguilar (@MDpor_elmundo) November 19, 2013
y 3.anterior como sospechoso el cambio. Poco a poco se están cargando el FIFA Balón de Oro con las decisiones que se van sucediendo.— Francesc Aguilar (@MDpor_elmundo) November 19, 2013
News of the move to extend the voting period has been mostly welcomed in the Madrid press, which had been highly critical of FIFA president Sepp Blatter's recent mockery of Ronaldo, and played along with theories of a conspiracy to deny the Real Madrid player individual honours.
"The amazing performance by Cristiano Ronaldo last night in Solna has completely overturned the betting markets for the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013 winner," AS reported on Wednesday morning. "The Portuguese, who until last night was second favourite behind Franck Ribery, has for the first time moved in front of the Frenchman. His exhibition, and the extension of the voting, have been decisive. Furthermore Lionel Messi has been left way back in third place."
Marca were running an online poll Wednesday morning to ask its readers if the decision to extend the voting "would favour Cristiano Ronaldo." Of the first 4,000 voters, 81 percent said that it would.
Mundo Deportivo was less excited by the news, limiting its story to a short piece including excerpts from the circular sent out by FIFA and France Football "which extends the period of accepting votes with the end of guaranteeing the representation of the selecting media and all FIFA's member associations." The Catalan paper opted to illustrate the story with a photo of four-time winner Messi accepting the 2012 prize.
There has also been further confusion around the award, with Blatter suggesting last week that a five-man shortlist would be chosen this year, but FIFA confirmed on Tuesday that it would stick to its usual three nominees when the names are formally announced on Dec. 9.