After the scandal and subsequent souring of FIFA over the last seven months, the five men vying to succeed SeppBlatter a week on Friday will be firmly looking to draw a line under the corruption which has damaged the organisation’s credibility, at least from a public point of view, almost beyond repair.
Whether or not the significance of the election has been grasped by Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Gianni Infantino, Prince Ali bin Hussein, Jerome Champagne or Tokyo Sexwale is unclear, but it marks a profound moment in the history of sports governance.
The campaign hasn’t exactly caught the public’s imagination – and that may, in itself, be a good thing as a low-key president is perhaps exactly what FIFA needs – but has not been without its drama.
Infantino’s involvement only really came as a result of the 90-day suspension handed to Michel Platini, the runaway favourite, on October 8 and the Swiss has benefitted enormously from the Platini powerbase.
In relation to Sheikh Salman, there have been concerns over Bahrain’s human rights record – in particular the detention of 150 athletes and sports administrators for their alleged part in the 2011 uprisings, which has lost him the support of powerful countries such as Germany – while last week he denied his FA were knowingly involved with a match-fixer in 2010. More bizarre are allegations that his team have created fake journalists on Twitter to endorse his campaign and criticise Infantino’s.
The planned TV debates were supposed to advertise a more open and accountable FIFA, but instead ESPN’s event in London was cancelled after only Champagne and Prince Ali committed, while a joint venture between campaigners NewFifaNow and the BBC in Brussels only saw Champagne turn up.
Friday’s election in Zurich may also see one contender not attend with Sexwale keeping a low public profile amid his already dwindling support.
Here, Sport360 breaks down the five candidates, what they are promising and what chance they have of being the first man to move FIFA away from what became the toxic reign of Blatter…
The bookmakers’ favourite and the man whose politicking has perhaps been the most impressive, especially as he’s faced the most criticism since declaring on October 15. He has been president of the Bahrain Football Association since 2002 and became AFC president in 2013 after Mohammed bin Hammam’s ban two years earlier.
As the most powerful man in Asian football, he’s is expected to receive a huge bulk of the 46 votes from his home confederation. Under the banner, ‘World Football Refined, Restructured, Revitalised’, the 50-year-old wants to create a global anti-corruption agency and separate the commercial and governance strands of FIFA into separate entities to avoid the sort of conflict of interests that dogged the Blatter regime.
Softly-spoken he may be but he has strong, and potential controversial ideas, including experimenting with a 60-minute game in which the clock will be stopped whenever the ball goes out of play to combat time-wasting.
What could be key is the block vote he’s secured from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) whose 54 members have traditionally backed Blatter. This expected 90-100 votes gives him a strong foundation to secure the 139 minimum needed to secure outright victory in the first round.
However, the primary issue surrounding Sheikh Salman is that he represents, at least on the surface, the smallest departure from Blatter given concerns over his own commitment to openess. Sheikh Salman admits he would prefer a “clear indication on who would be elected”, before the actual election takes place, while in 2012 played a key role in squashing an independent audit of AFC finances that raised serious questions about possible bribery and tax evasion.
“He has the bulk of Asia and the backing of the African leadership, it’s a fairly important step on the road. I don’t think anybody else has the same kind of advantage going into the election,” says chief sports reporter of The Times, Martyn Ziegler, who has covered FIFA extensively for the last 16 years breaking many of the key stories around Blatter.
“Would he make a good FIFA president? I don’t know. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and I think that’s the same with all five.”
Best known as the face of the Champions League draw, the Swiss-Italian is a lawyer by trade who joined UEFA in 2000 and rapidly rose through the ranks to become general secretary in 2009.
Of all the candidates he has the most stardust around him, with Jose Mourinho describing him as “the one” at a campaign event in London earlier this month, also attended by Fabio Capello, Luis Figo and Clarence Seedorf.
Infantino is the most ardent supporter of expanding the World Cup to 40 teams and his manifesto, entitled ‘Taking Football Forward’, includes limiting presidential terms of 12 years, full disclosure of FIFA salaries and greater use of technology for referees.
However, Infantino’s decision to run is seen as only a result of Platini pulling out and he has constantly had to deny rumours he is nothing more than the Frenchman’s puppet.
He has, however, admitted to seeking counsel from Platiniduring his expulsion. For now at least, Platini’s support has been positive with the bulk of UEFA seemingly in his camp plus CONMEBOL and potentially CONCACAF, the latter swayed by his pledge to channel 50 per cent of FIFA’s revenues back to each of the 209 member states.
What could further tip the scales in his favour is the Russian Football Federation, who still bear considerable influence throughout eastern Europe, offering their backing on February 3. That said, the King of Bahrain met Vladimir Putin five days later for talks over Syria and greater economic cooperation so that could further muddy the waters.
Ziegler adds: “I’m sure he’ll get the bulk of the European vote. The Russian angle is a very interesting one as we’re not sure exactly which way they’re going to go. It’s not definite yet.
“Infantino has certainly travelled. The Platini links, I think, have helped him win over the South Americans. He’s flown to the Carribbean Islands and met a lot of people and his promises of money for each association is, of course, important in winning support. It’s a pure Sepp Blatter tactic.”
The Jordanian who somewhat triumphantly gave Blatter a bloody nose, before stepping away with dignity, has gone from contender to likely also-ran.
Prince Ali may have won 73 votes last May but to get anywhere near that number next Friday is ambitious.
Firstly, a sizeable proportion – mainly UEFA-based – who declared their support then would have done so mainly in protest to Blatter, rather than genuine affinity to Prince Ali, and will now back Infantino, while Sheikh Salman’s profile in Asia means he will struggle to gain significant numbers in his home confederation.
Nevertheless, he’s battled on with ‘His Vision for Football’, which carries ideas such as two four-year fixed terms for president and overhauling the World Cup bidding process to mirror the IOC. He could, however, still prove kingmaker if he secures enough votes to take it to a second round with his supporters then to switch to Sheikh Salmanor Infantino.
Ziegler says: “He’ll be on the fringes. His big problem is a lack of core support. I’ll be intrigued to see how many votes he does get.”
Endorsed by Pele, his position is a curious one. He’s a hugely influential figure within FIFA having worked as director of international relations but at the same time doesn’t seem to have much of a profile.
This is the second time the former French diplomat has put himself forward for election having declared for the 2015 election only to stand down after failing to secure the five nominations needed. Champagne does have some support in the Arab world with Palestine one of only two country’s declaring publicly they will vote for him.
He has been the most vocal critic of ideas to expand the World Cup to 40 teams describing it as “pure fantasy”. A seven-page manifesto entitled ‘Hope for Football: Re-balance the Game in a Globalised 21st Century’ leans heavy on addressing the financial imbalance between countries, wealth distribution and grassroots development.
He is, in many ways, the most worthy of all but his links to Blatter cast a, perhaps unfairly, cloud over him. He worked side-by-side with the Swiss for 11 years, has been a continual supporter through all the scandal saying last month: “History will judge Mister Blatter much better than it is today.”
Ziegler says: “He doesn’t have the financial resources like the others. He’s an interesting man, full of ideas and very detailed and his heart is in the right place but he has this issue of being close to Blatter and for a lot of people that rules him out. He has got some friends, but I don’t think he has nearly enough.”
Flamboyantly named – his first name is actually a nickname due to a childhood love of karate while his surname is actually pronounced Sess-war-lee – but his campaign has been anything but, perhaps best emphasised by the name of his manifesto – ‘Tokyo Sexwale: Candidate Manifesto’.
Known for being a charismatic speaker with a fascinating past – he was imprisoned at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela for 13 years – he’s remained in the shadows as others have scooped up support.
Ultimately, the South African’s policies are a little thin on the ground: he’s in favour of expanding the World Cup, shirt sponsorship on national teams to raise revenue and a focus group of football experts to advise FIFA annually, but, rather embarrassingly his manifesto was littered with spelling errors.
Even more humiliating could be him failing to secure even one vote.
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