Commentary

FIFA's Next President: Assessing the Field

On Monday, FIFA stopped accepting candidates to replace Sepp Blatter as the scandal-tainted governing body’s president.

The field stands at eight challengers, although it will likely be reduced to seven, as UEFA President Michel Platini, the former frontrunner for the job, is currently suspended after he and president Blatter (also suspended) entered into a $2 million “gentleman’s agreement” for unspecified consulting work that took some nine years to be paid out. Another potential candidate, Chung Mong-joon, a former FIFA vice president and heir to the Hyundai fortune, was banned by FIFA for six years, making him ineligible to run. Chung officially stepped out of the race on Monday.

That doesn’t mean the field will not be narrowed further, either, as each of the remaining candidates will next be subjected to a (no doubt rigorous and thorough) integrity test administered by FIFA before the campaigning can begin. These tests will be carried out over the next two weeks.

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Interestingly, in calling for the “most stringent of tests of integrity” to be carried out on all candidates, FIFPro, the international professional players’ union, described soccer’s world governing body a “toxic pit” of corruption in its statement. 

Nonetheless, the AFP claims that the frontrunner to fail the integrity test is Asian Football Confederation president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa, who hails from the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain. Among other things, Shaikh Salman has been accused of failing to protect Bahraini national team players after they took part in pro-democracy protests in 2011. Some players say they were tortured while being detained by government forces when the sheikh was head of the Bahrain soccer federation.

Of the remaining six, five either currently or formerly had direct ties to FIFA. Tokyo Sexwale, a former political prisoner turned diamond mining tycoon who is now one of the richest men in South Africa, was recruited by Blatter in June to oversee a monitoring committee that would oversee issues affecting the development of soccer in Palestine. The others are: UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, who joined the race on Monday, Jerome Champagne, a former French diplomat, FIFA official and noted friend of Blatter’s, Musa Bility, head of the Liberian soccer federation, who also joined Monday, and former FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al Hussein, who lost the last FIFA election to Blatter in May. The sixth candidate, David Nakhid, a former player from Trinidad & Tobago, is unlikely to be seriously considered.

For six years, Infantino has been seen as Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA. Many thought that with Platini as the new FIFA president, Infantino would likely be general secretary, but now that Platini looks certain to be disqualified, UEFA has (somewhat belatedly) thrown all of its weight behind the Frenchman’s ally. In fact, according to the AP, Infantino only filed his entry papers with FIFA after an emergency UEFA executive committee meeting held via video conference.

Maybe that’s because UEFA didn’t want Champagne to be Europe’s candidate if indeed Platini fails the integrity test. In his 11 years with FIFA, Champagne served in a variety of roles but is noted for contributing to the reelection of Blatter in 2002 in addition to helping Platini secure the post as president of UEFA in 2007. He is presumably too close to the old guard for UEFA’s comfort. 

Liberian Bility has faced the challenge of coordinating Africa’s soccer leaders to support him. He also entered the race Monday claiming that more than 25 of the 54 African voting federations have offered to nominate him. "I don't want to go into any race that I cannot win," Bility told the AP.

In order for either African candidate to win, they will need the entire African confederation (CAF) to vote in their favor, in addition to swaying large chunks of the AFC.

That would seem to make, almost by default, Prince Ali of Jordan the frontrunner to take over from Sepp Blatter in the Feb. 26 FIFA election. Outside of his affiliation with FIFA, where he serves as president of the Jordan soccer federation (JFA) as well as being a former FIFA vice president and member of the AFC executive committee, Prince Ali hasn’t had much of a career. His platform for running against Blatter earlier this year was as a guy who is dissatisfied with the way Blatter and his cronies have run the organization, while promising all kinds of changes.

With Blatter now suspended, and many of his cronies now banned, indicted, facing imminent indictment or suspended, will running on the same platform be enough to secure the presidency for Prince Ali? You'd think so, but this election is all about politics. Prince Ali has lost his power base in UEFA since his falling out with Platini, and even U.S. Soccer, which nominated and voted for him against Blatter in May, has been silent on whom it will support this time around.

Without the protest votes -- he lost to Blatter, 133-73 -- Prince Ali would seem to have little chance this time around unless a majority of FIFA's 209 member associations come to their senses and realize politics as usual doesn't fly anymore. 

 

10 comments about "FIFA's Next President: Assessing the Field".
  1. Kenneth Gough, October 27, 2015 at 8:21 a.m.

    Time for Switzerland to put FIFA in receivership and appoint a well-respected businessman to straighten out the business side while the prosecutors clean up the mess.

  2. Joe Linzner, October 27, 2015 at 8:52 a.m.

    yep, that's what we need, a well respected Businessman. Like Th Kock Brothers or corporation CEO..... What is needed is a collective panel wher no one has absolute power. Everything organized overtly and highly visible to establish soccer as a legitimate sport to serve the sport and not for the financial benefit of a cabal of miscreants.

  3. Victor Mathseon, October 27, 2015 at 9:06 a.m.

    FIFA needs a well-respected business person with executive management skills, experience in managing international sporting events, a major stature/gravitas to manage the egos on FIFA, and a history in cleaning up corruption.

    Mitt Romney should be the guy. Seriously.

    Regardless of politics, and I didn't vote for him either for president or governor, he would be a great choice.

    Huge governmental/business executive experience as governor and director at Bain. He gained national recognition by coming in to rescue the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics after it had become mired in exactly the sort of bribery scandals FIFA is facing. And even after a failed run at the presidency, he maintains a squeaky-clean reputation. And you have to figure he has enough money to not be taken in by petty bribes.

  4. Miguel Dedo, October 27, 2015 at 10:40 a.m.

    I'm for Mitt, too.

  5. Phil Hardy, October 27, 2015 at 11:27 a.m.

    It would seem FIFA has out-FIFA'd calls for someone (anyone) like Mitt Romney with its self-serving critrea of needing to have been involved with football on some meaningful level. This clause alone almost guarantees us a tainted leader of FIFA, regardless of who runs. George Mitchell, Mitt Romney, Mother Teresa, none are allowable under the putrid and festering FIFA rules.

  6. Phil Hardy, October 27, 2015 at 11:28 a.m.

    Been involved in the last two years in world football; left that out.

  7. Victor Mathseon, October 27, 2015 at 1:17 p.m.

    When we were kicking around names, we thought of George Mitchell as well due to his Baseball experience a decade ago. If not for his age (82) and his focus on more American sports, I might have put him forth. Mother Theresa, hmmm... being deceased reduces the chance of corruption, I guess.

  8. Mark Zylker, October 27, 2015 at 4:49 p.m.

    That's it Joe. Make it liberal politics. If not Koch, then I am sure you would like George Soros or Warren Buffett. I agree that an honest businessman would be a good stop gap measure until the ship can be righted. The panel of Blatter etc has gotten us nothing but insider cronyism!!!

  9. Santiago 1314, October 27, 2015 at 5:15 p.m.

    DRATS AND DOUBLE DRATS.!!!..Sunil is Not Running.???....He is the only one in FIFAfia That is Clean enough (We Think) and has the Financial Acumen to "Right the Ship"...Plus, that means we are STUCK with Klinsmann...Double Bummer

  10. Allan Lindh, October 27, 2015 at 6:34 p.m.

    Sorry gentlemen, the barrel is rotten all the way to the bottom. Time for North American nations, and some of the UEFA and S. American countries to bail on FIFA, and form a new federation with somewhat different rules. They can hold an alternate WC in 2019, and who do you think the big money advertisers will support? The rest of the world will follow within a few years, when the FIFA taps run dry.

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