Following Sepp Blatter’s fall from grace last year, it’s fair to say that even the most ardent of soccer fans will have struggled to keep up with the hectic twists and turns that have gone on at the pinnacle of the game. Public trust seems to be at an all-time low, despite the intervention of the FBI in a corruption case that brought an abrupt halt to the reign of Joseph (Sepp) Blatter in 2015. The former president, who is currently subject to an eight-year-suspension, has argued that “you cannot buy a World Cup”, but there are still question marks about the validity of the Qatar 2022 bid, never mind the £1.35m payment from Blatter to Michel Platini that landed the pair in hot water. (Especially considering that Platini was considered to be the favourite for the election before the scandal broke.)
Luckily, it seems like the organisation has finally seen the last of Blatter, and on Friday, representatives of the 209 nations that make up world football will meet to decide its future in the short term. (Though he has continued to receive his presidential wage while waiting for a replacement, and his compensation package has remained a closely guarded secret, which means it’s probably large.) They have two issues to take care of. The first focuses on numerous reforms, which should help to change the way the organisation works, as well as making it more transparent for the general public. Instead of an executive committee, they will move to a 36-person council, with audits done independently. On top of that, salaries will be fully disclosed, which is a world away from Blatter, considering the acrimonious circumstances surrounding his impending departure. The second issue is the one that is sure to grab the headlines. The 209 representatives will choose a new president to help them through the reforms, (if successful) and it’s definitely a role that comes with a lot of responsibility. Every member nation has a delegate, with each one getting a separate vote for the ballot which takes place in secret. If one of the candidate’s gets two-thirds of the votes in the first round, they’ll win the election outright. If not, it’ll go to a second round of voting, which is decided by a simple majority.
Traditionally, continents and countries have block voted, in the vein of a suit-filled version of the Eurovision Song Contest. Instead of regional allegiances, they tend to vote for whoever has promised them the best deal, and it used to be Sepp. This could be a deal that comes in many shapes and forms, whether it be an increase in funding for equipment or facilities, or even expanding the World Cup Finals to include even more teams, as FIFA have recently discussed. The former general secretary of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Charles Blazer argued that it was much more blatant, and that he himself accepted bribes in relation to TV broadcasting rights and the successful 2010 South African World Cup bid. Either way, it’s not exactly how most of us would like the game to be managed, and the corruption saga has refused to go away.
Of the five remaining candidates, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain is the current favourite, and though he’s been attempting to distance himself from the previous regime, he denies that corruption is widespread within FIFA;
I don’t believe what is happening in the rest of the world is FIFA’s mistake. We can’t blame FIFA for all that happens in football in the rest of the world.
If something happens in CONCACAF or South America, people say it is FIFA; I don’t think it is so. This is purely a confederation issue. If you look at FIFA with 400-plus staff, I don’t think there is a single guy within FIFA that has been convicted of wrongdoing.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa – In an interview with Reuters
Salman has the public backing of the African confederation, (CAF) while he is expected to have strong support from the Asian confederation too. It’s likely that he will be there or thereabouts by the end of the first voting phase. Gianni Infantino is likely to be his main challenger, and he has claimed he has the support of numerous voters, including a majority of the African votes. (If true, this means they will be voting against their confederation, but stranger things have happened during FIFA elections and votes.) If the reforms come to pass, it’s possible that the FIFA we grew to mistrust will slowly disappear, giving way to a more open organisation that will help football to grow naturally as it continues to gain popularity in emerging markets like China.
It’s not all doom and gloom, and there’s a chance that FIFA could back away from the precipice, but it depends on the decisions made by the people entrusted with looking after the future of the game. (Potentially, the FBI could still have a major part to play if their investigation into FIFA continues to be fruitful.) A lot depends on Friday’s meeting, and everybody is hoping that FIFA can put any sordid elements of their past to bed. In any case, it’s likely that the transition won’t be painless, and there’s still a chance that those involved in any wrongdoing will cling on until the bitter end. The final three challengers are former FIFA vice-president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, French diplomat Jerome Champagne, and South African politician Mosima “Tokyo” Sexwale. Each have been involved in FIFA and football to some extent in the past, and each have alleged skeletons in their closet, whether it be a strong association with Blatter or Platini like Champagne and Infantino, or being involved heavily in the 2010 bid like Sexwale. It’s not exactly the Justice League.
The reforms are the most important element of the upcoming FIFA vote, but the leader is more than just a figurehead. It’s unlikely that any president will match the power wielded by Blatter in his pomp, although that’s probably a good thing in the grand scheme of things. It’s understandable that there’s an air of cynicism surrounding the vote and the reforms, but the possibility of prosecution could serve to scare some of the guilty parties straight, while there’s a clear chance to turn the corner in terms of the culture of FIFA. For an organisation that is known to be trapped in the past, the concept of greater transparency is frankly alien. We’ll have to wait until the votes are counted to see what the future holds, but it’s the most important vote of the last decade. Knowing their history, it doesn’t look good.
The latest news is that Prince Ali has lost his bid to ensure that the voting booths are transparent and secure. He wanted to ensure that the delegates couldn’t take photos or videos of their votes as proof for ‘interested parties’ that could attempt to ‘buy’ votes.
Let’s hope that it isn’t a sign of things to come.