Commentary

The FIFA election, the sanctity of the secret vote and case against ballot selfies

In nine days, we will know who the next FIFA president is, and given the reputation of soccer's world governing body, doubts about the integrity of the election are running high.

If you were wondering, the election for FIFA president will be conducted by secret vote.

Not all FIFA-related elections are by secret ballot. When Sunil Gulati was elected to the FIFA executive committee in 2013, he beat Mexican Justino Compean by a vote of 18-17. Each of the 35 Concacaf national associations declared its vote, going in reverse alphabetical order so Jeffrey Webb, then Concacaf president and now under house arrest (but partying away) at his mansion in Georgia awaiting sentencing in the FIFA scandals, could wait until it got to the Cs -- for Cayman Islands from where he hailed -- for him to know which way the winds were blowing before he cast his vote -- for Gulati.

The case for a public vote for FIFA president is that it will force national associations to be accountable to their constituents for their choice. Makes perfect sense? But do you really think national associations care what their players, coaches and fans think? You underestimate the nasty nature of FIFA politics. If national associations want to vote freely -- and in this case we are assuming that means cast a vote in favor of reform -- they have to be able to vote in secret.

Reuters reported that cell phones and cameras -- any device that could be used to memorialize a vote cast in the voting booth -- will be banned  -- like they are under most state election laws in the United States that ban so-called "ballot selfies."

Frenchman Jerome Champagne, one of the five candidates for president and an old hand at FIFA politics, had asked the FIFA ad-hoc electoral committee confirm the ban, saying national associations were being told they'd need to take pictures of their voting form with a cell phone as proof they had followed marching orders.

Those marching orders are the directives from on high -- from the bosses at the confederation level, the same place where most of the corruption has taken place.

The FIFA scandals have produced a new term "disloyal payment" -- for the $2 million payment Sepp Blatter gave to Michel Platini against FIFA's interests. And the election will produce another one: "disloyal vote" for any national association that disobeys its confederation directives.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, the most independent of the five candidates and most critical of the FIFA process, explained to Reuters last week how the system worked:

"Development projects mysteriously stall; tournament hosting bids are suddenly compromised or withdrawn; national teams start to mysteriously face less favorable fixtures or and even referees. All of these are effective ways to punish member associations that fail to demonstrate political loyalty."

Already a few member associations have been called out for going against orders.

The tiny South Sudan Football Association came out in support for UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, then admitted sheepishly it had not gotten the memo -- literally.

On Feb. 8, three days after the Confederation of African Football's executive committee announced its support of Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the SSFA backed Infantino following a meeting in the capital of Juba at which the Swiss executive promised to be "ready to listen to South Sudan at all times with dedicated contact persons." Four days later, SSFA changed its position, blaming its misguided support for Infantino on its failure to receive "official communication" of CAF's directive.

"Reacting to the letter," All-Africa.com reported, "CAF first vice president Suketu Patel, while commending the foresight and accuracy of mind of the SSFA president, reminded all hoping to break up the sacred union and solidarity that have always been put in the African football family and destabilizing the business are bound to failure."

When new Trinidad & Tobago Football Association president David John-Williams came out in support of Infantino, Caribbean Football Union president Gordon Derrick jumped in and said John-Williams couldn't do that. The CFU -- with 25 votes -- needed to stick together.

“I always said when we make decisions collectively we are stronger,” Derrick told 868wired.com, “and we have to make our decisions in unity to get what we want for our region. If we divide and split among ourselves our bargaining power is diminished. I cannot force anyone to select a candidate against their will. But at least we would have decided together.”

The CFU has not announced who it is supporting, but the Daily Mail reported on Monday that Sheikh Salman's machine believes it has garnered support from 18 of the 25 CFU members. If that's the case, the CFU support for Sheikh Salman would give him a big leg up in his bid to reach the 105-vote total (the magic number in the second and succeeding rounds if all 209 FIFA members are allowed to vote).

The connection between the CFU and Sheikh Salman? Peter Hargitay.

The notorious Swiss-Hungarian spin doctor is reported to be running Sheikh Salman's campaign and highly influential in the Caribbean, going back to the days when he was Sepp Blatter's go-to man on political matters and close to indicted former Concacaf president Jack Warner, who ran soccer in the Caribbean with an iron fist before he resigned in 2011.

Hargitay's connection to the Caribbean? He has maintained a residence in Jamaica, where in 1995 he was arrested, and later acquitted, on cocaine trafficking charges. Hargitay, whose daughter was Miss Jamaica 2013, also was arrested and acquitted on drug charges in Florida.

In recent years, Hargitay has been involved in various soccer campaigns. He was on the winning side when Mohamed bin Hamman defeated Sheikh Salman for a seat on the FIFA executive committee in a 2009 election considered to be dirtiest in FIFA history. But he was on the losing side a year later when Australia failed to secure the 2022 World Cup hosting rights.

2 comments about "The FIFA election, the sanctity of the secret vote and case against ballot selfies".
  1. Margaret Manning, February 17, 2016 at 9:51 p.m.

    I had hoped that Swiss law somehow empowered its justice officials to intervene in this cesspool. I guess not.

  2. Ric Fonseca, February 17, 2016 at 11:25 p.m.

    I think maybe they should send them that guy from NYC who's running for one of the prezidential nominations to "keep 'em in line" or he'll, heck, just fire the whole bunch!!!

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