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.
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.