FIFA election: Business as usual on confederation front

It's less than six weeks until the FIFA presidential election, and the gloves have come off.

It all began with the announcement last week in Rwanda of a memorandum of agreement between the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Confederation of African Football (CAF) and "pledges cooperation on soccer and social development" in the next four years.

Innocent enough?

But the two signatories to the agreement were AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and CAF president Issa Hayatou. Shaikh Salman happens to be running for FIFA president, and Hayatou has been acting FIFA president since Sepp Blatter was suspended and later banned.

Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, another of the five candidates for FIFA president, immediately cried foul, writing to FIFA's Ad Hoc Electoral Committee and asking it to examine the deal that he views as a way of engineering a "bloc vote" in the FIFA election.

The math is simple. Between the AFC and CAF, their members total 100 votes, almost enough to ensure their candidate -- presumably Shaikh Salman -- wins if every member of the two confederations votes as a bloc.

FIFA Electorate:
54 Africa (CAF)
53 UEFA (Europe)
46 Asia (AFC)
35 Concacaf
11 Oceania
10 South America (Conmebol)
Total: 209

Shaikh Salman quickly fired back, calling it "an unnecessary spat between FIFA candidates" and stating, "I am astonished about my friend's comments, which are wholly dismissed and entirely inaccurate."

Shaikh Salman's position: an agreement had been in the works for months, and it was similar to other cooperation agreements the AFC and CAF has reached in the past and the AFC has in force with other confederations. On that point, Shaikh Salman is right. Prince Ali seems a little too sensitive about the signing of a cooperation agreement.

(To deflect criticism -- or perhaps free himself to campaign for Shaikh Salman -- Hayatou on Monday announced he was temporarily stepping down as CAF president.)

But the bigger picture still holds. Prince Ali wouldn't be firing away if he didn't think Shaikh Salman's bid was gaining momentum, and an AFC-CAF alliance would put Shaikh Salman in a solid position.

Even Sheikh Salman himself said he was the favorite, telling Press Association Sport on Monday:

"I seem to be the favorite to win the election, judging by the media, member associations and sports betting companies alike and I am honored to be in that position. I have been through a few elections before and I won't go into an election unless I have a good chance. The encouragement I have had has been a big boost. If you talk to the key people -- the confederations and the member associations -- there is a good understanding more or less on who is the favorite to succeed."

Shaikh Salman's presidential bid is not without controversy. Bahraini human rights groups have accused Shaikh Salman, as head of the Bahrain Football Association, the government's general secretary of youth and sport and a member of the ruling royal family, of helping to identify athletes involved in the 2011 protests by the Shia Muslim majority against the Sunni rulers.

The Associated Press reported that more than 150 athletes, coaches and referees were jailed after a special committee, headed by Shaikh Salman, picked them out in photos of the protests. They included six Bahraini national team players. In addition, six Shiite soccer clubs were fined $20,000 each and suspended from the national league.

Shaikh Salman has denied having anything to do with any special committee -- "When people talk about skeletons in the closet, my closet is clear,"  he told the PA -- and passed a FIFA integrity test before his candidacy could go forward.

But Swiss governance professor Mark Pieth, who worked on FIFA's original reform proposals, issued a warning on Sunday about a member of an “autocratic dynasty” becoming the next FIFA president, telling Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “We need an outcry from the 209 soccer federations. They should ask, 'Is this what we want? Really? Is Salman a credible agent of democracy and a fresh start? Is he suitable?'"

Other questions exist about Shaikh Salman and whether he quashed an audit that looked into bribery, non-transparency and tax evasion within the AFC in the aftermath of the fall of his predecessor, Qatari Mohamed bin Hamman. But Shaikh Salman is adamant he's done nothing wrong. Again from his interview with the PA: "There has been an integrity check and I don't have anything to defend myself about."

Shaikh Salman might have done nothing wrong he has to defend himself about, but he will have to answer for the confederation system. It's ironic he says he stands for change with FIFA yet might to be headed to victory thanks to business as usual.

There is a reason every one of the six FIFA confederation presidents -- in the case of Concacaf and Conmebol, the last three presidents -- have been arrested, indicted, banned from soccer or reprimanded for corruption or ethics violations in the last five years.

The power of the confederation presidents to deliver bloc votes gives them enormous power and has made them susceptible to being influenced. Until the power of the confederations and their presidents is diminished, soccer's corruption problems will continue.

Shaikh Salman and Hayatou delivered enough of the AFC and CAF vote that Blatter survived a challenge from Prince Ali in the May election that came just two days after Swiss police arrested seven FIFA officials on U.S. corruption charges. By any other measure, Blatter should have been run out of office. (As it was, he quit days later.)

And it looks like Shaikh Salman and Hayatou might deliver enough votes that Shaikh Salman succeeds Blatter.

6 comments about "FIFA election: Business as usual on confederation front".
  1. Gus Keri, January 19, 2016 at 12:34 a.m.

    Shaikh Salman is going to win the FIFA presidency no matter what. Bloc voting is still alive and AFC and CAF don't need this agreement to go through it. Most likely, the agreement was done now before the election because if Shaikh Salman wins, he will leave the AFC position and this will delay the agreement until the next AFC president is known and it might not happened then. The world should get used to the new world order of soccer that will center around the Gulf region for the next decade or so. It's an issue beyond soccer itself. It's part of the war on terrorism.

  2. Allan Lindh, January 19, 2016 at 1:11 a.m.

    Fish rots from the head. Time to dump the whole sordid sack of rotten fish. Start over, the US & Canada, maybe Mexico, plus UEFA. New organization, new structure, transparent and above board. No more one tiny country, one vote -- hopelessly corrupt. Just announce an alternate WC in 2018, and the sponsors will come across.

  3. Carlos Figueroa replied, January 19, 2016 at 9:16 a.m.

    If uefa and us/mex held firm and put up the cash, they would drag in the conmebol countries kicking a screaming, but they would join. Thus dooming Fifa. However, it's a pipe dream. What federation is willing to spend millions (possibly billions) when there is money to be made this summer? Millions more in 2 years??

  4. Brent Crossland, January 19, 2016 at 9:48 a.m.

    As always, its all about the money. I agree that Uefa & Conemebol (reluctantly) could pull away. The key is the major US and European sponsors. If they take a firm stand against this reincarnation of FIFA royalty things will happen.

    Asia & Africa can have their "mutual aid" agreement but the money will have to come from somewhere.

  5. Carlos Figueroa replied, January 19, 2016 at 10:56 a.m.

    If it's left to the sponsors to finance a new world soccer body, I would expect future tournaments to be reminiscent of the Atlanta olympics; corporate sponsorship at its worst.

  6. Ric Fonseca, January 19, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    Hola Senores, this is certainly interesting especially after reading Infantino's proposal to distribute 1.5 billion bucks amongst federations, etc., while telling the readers that he is a possible (or is it "real"?) candidate for the presidency? Now if that isn't a overt way of vote buying, then I've a bridge for sale in NY!!!

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