FIFA Elections: Running the Rule Over The Field

The deadline for candidates to announce their intention to stand for the FIFA presidency passed today, and it seems as if a six (in reality five) horse field has been assembled. One of those is of course the current incumbent of the office, that mendacious old nag Sepp Blatter. Other runners include Jerome Champagne of UEFA, Prince Ali of Jordan, Michael Van Praag, Luis Figo and the already discredited David Ginola. At one stage it looked as though the contest would be a foregone conclusion, so one should be thankful that some kind of battle has emerged. Nevertheless, we must remain sceptical about the respective challengers and of the chances of change at the helm of football’s governing body.

In ‘real’ politics, the party or individual currently holding office tends to be at something of a disadvantage during elections; since all of the travails, scandals and problems during their term in office can be held against them by the opposition. However in the case of FIFA, Sepp Blatter seems to be immune from this. Those seeking to lampoon Blatter have no shortage of material; the widespread corruption among delegates during the World Cup bidding processes, the subsequent blundering attempts to cover up this scandal and silence their own commissioner Micheal Garcia, the failure of the organisation to punish racism in its many forms sufficiently and apart from anything else, the fact that he is 78 years old and that this will be his fifth term.

Unfortunately the defeat of Blatter looks an extremely unlikely outcome, since he has garnered the support of large swathes of FIFA’s 209 member associations with many having already promised him their vote, allegedly. This is especially true among African federations, where he is expected to clear up. Kwesi Nyantakyi, the president of the Ghana FA and a Confederation of African Football (Caf) executive committee member, claims:

Africa is solidly behind Blatter. You will find he is very popular on the continent.

The main opposition to Blatter comes from Europe, and Jerome Champagne of UEFA was the first candidate to announce his intention to challenge. He is still struggling to gain the five nominations from member associations that are necessary to stand for election. He may even have to rely on Sepp Blatter to arrange for five associations to support him; which would immediately place him in his debt. There is also a feeling that he is rather to close to Blatter, having worked for him in the past. Though more recently he has been critical of what he calls the ‘goldiggers’ in the administration.

Moreover, he makes the valid point that it would be naïve to place all of FIFA’s ills at the door of one individual and argues that there needs to be a cultural change within the organisation and its institutions. Some of his more encouraging rhetoric also discusses the culture of ‘fear’ that FIFA has spread among its member nations. Nevertheless, there is a sense that Champagne is a bit too much of an establishment candidate whose election would prove nothing more than a rearrangement of the furniture.

The reason why Champagne has struggled to gain the five necessary nominations is because his bête noir Michel Platini has mobilised much support within UEFA for Prince Ali of Jordan, including from the English FA. It should be noted however, that supporting a candidate’s nomination does not necessarily mean you a promising to vote from them. I sense that the FA would have given Barry Chuckle a nomination if it meant providing an opponent to Sepp Blatter. Prince Ali has time on his side, at just 39 years of age, and his most notable achievement to date was lifting the ban on female Asian players wearing headscarves in competition.

Much of his support may come from Europe, and this could be important since he is not guaranteed a majority of votes from members of the Asian federation due to the excessive influence of Bahrain. Prince Ali’s words are not especially inspiring and are filled with all of the platitudes you would expect, he also says that it is time to ‘shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport’. Well I’m sorry, but the ‘administrative controversy’, the alleged widespread corruption within the institution, does not need to be pushed to one side. It is the responsibility of any new president to expose such problems in a thorough and exhaustive way. Moreover, if I was looking for a way to democratise any governing body in order to make it more transparent and serve the needs of its members, I don’t think I would turn to a member of an extremely controversial and reactionary royal family. But this is just a personal affectation.

Prince Ali’s words are not especially inspiring and are filled with all of the platitudes you would expect

Michael Van Praag faces an uphill struggle to worry Blatter, as do all of the other candidates, but he could potentially make life difficult for him. His emergence is likely to attract a good deal of support from within Europe, which could spell the end for Champagne. He has excellent credentials having been the head of the Dutch FA for 20 years and having worked at Ajax. Holland would be a fine example to any footballing body to follow, a nation with a small population and small commercial base that consistently produces top quality players as well as an effective and attractive national side. Van Praag has also been more vehement and specific in his criticisms of FIFA when compared with the other two candidates, saying that it is ‘high time that the organisation comes back into the real world’.

The two ‘public relations’ candidates are Luis Figo and David Ginola. It is common knowledge that the Ginola’s campaign is backed by Paddy Power as nothing more than a rise. He floundered for a response when questioned at his press conference about his opinions on third party ownership; he presumably thought the media would just welcome him with open arms rather than question him on policy. I’ve distrusted Ginola ever since he didn’t have the decency to hand back his PFA Player of the Year award in 1999, a year in which Manchester United won a historic treble. Ginola won the League Cup with Spurs after beating Leicester City in the final, and finished 11th in the League. Granted, the PFA votes came well before the end of the season. Giving the award to Ginola was still scandalous and there ought to have been a re vote.

Luis Figo is a marginally more serious candidate. He is very marketable, having played for two of the biggest clubs in the world, and has a rather debonair demeanour. His hair has also remained remarkably black (I wonder how). Despite the endorsement from Jose Mourinho, this candidacy seems like another ploy from UEFA, as Charles Sale pointed out in the Daily Mail yesterday.

They, like the rest of us, are fairly resigned to a Blatter victory. They are trying to create as many credible alternatives as possible to sustain the anti-blatter sentiment after his victory and keep him under pressure.

Dan Zeqiri

You can follow Dan on Twitter: @ZeqiriDan

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