Heads are rollin’ at FIFA, but what suits should fill their place?

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Courtesy of the United States Government, the corruption at FIFA is finally rearing its ugly head in public. Sepp & Co are on the way out, currently serving a 90-day holiday likely on the beaches of Monaco or frantically meeting with their Swiss bank masters. The TURF’s North American correspondent, Samuel Patterson, looks to the future of the organisation.

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In one of the more egregious examples out there of the ‘pot calling the kettle black,’ FIFA’s Ethics Committee spent its Thursday morning on October 8th suspending senior figures in FIFA’s organisational hierarchy for 90 days. (The committee chairman himself, Hans-Joachim Eckert, released in December 2014 the farcical 42 page executive summary of the “Garcia Report” an internal audit of FIFA’s murky bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The whitewashing attempt found no evidence of substantive wrongdoing despite the claims of Garcia, sworn to non-disclosure of his report, that it contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations.”)

The list of shame includes FIFA President Sepp Blatter, UEFA President and FIFA-VP Michel Platini, and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Vâlcke, who only add on—like x-marks on a Mafia hierarchy—to the personnel hits FIFA has taken since late May. Per the suspension’s ruling, the Godfathers will not participate in any football-related activity until January 6th, and, should the ongoing committee investigation warrant it, 45 more days. This would take the popularly-pressured course of retributive action into February 2016, and well beyond the October 26 deadline that would-be FIFA presidents have to submit their candidacy papers by for the emergency February 26 election, something that fortunately falls under the definition of ‘football-related.’

The election date itself is less than pristine. Blatter announced it as the official transfer date of his power in the pressure emanating from the arrests, extraditions, slave-labor allegations, and paper trail of bribery, racketeering, and kick-backs the scandal would kick up. Whereas you could only speculate about it beforehand, the theatrical drama of the Hotel Baur au Lac and its aftermath proved beyond a doubt a mutually reinforcing grid of ‘old boys’ at FIFA HQ and select football associations. At best it could be legalised bribery (at least it’s legal). At worst: a system of crony-ist patronage networks fuelled by graft and Parmigiani watches.

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And yet it worked, because this corruption concurrently empowered post-colonial African, Asian, and Caribbean football associations that had been on the outside looking in for decades where European and South American nations dominated the levers and pulleys of international football. Sepp’s system—itself an expanded continuation of the policy of his predecessor Joao Havelange—allocated more World Cup spots to tinier confederations or diverted their member nations more money to develop the game. National football association heads protected from government interference by FIFA (just look at Kuwait in the last two weeks) could then vote—in a one FA-one vote where the Cook Islands and Australia have equal influence—how they saw fit: for Blatter.

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Self-righteous rambling aside, what’s done is done.  Hopefully (but don’t hold your breath) the scandals marring FIFA and the institutionalised problems within its bureaucracy are behind it and the general public. It’s time to look at the candidates jostling for the presidency, the favourites and upstairs, the insiders and anti-establishment types, all of whom complete a circus on par with the U.S. Republican party’s menagerie of candidates.

So let’s see the candidates currently not banned by FIFA’s ethics committee and who have obtained the necessary five nominations from national football associations before the October 26 deadline.

Undoubtedly the institutional favourite is Prince Ali bin Hussein, who announced his candidacy in September. The 39-year-old Jordanian, a younger step-brother of Jordan’s current King, is current head of the Jordanian FA and FIFA’s Vice-President, an Executive Committee role he obtained after finishing behind Sepp in May’s elections, the first FIFA Presidential election since 2002 that Der Sepp had actually faced off against an opponent. Western European countries protested Sepp’s campaign by voting in May for clear underdog Hussein, running on a platform of transparency, income redistribution back to national FAs, and not being Sepp. It’s a platform Hussein will largely continue to press and one he can advocate with real credibility. He’s pushed for the Garcia Report’s full disclosure, successfully overturned FIFA’s ban on hijabs (expanding the number of women worldwide able to play), and pledged to serve only one term as FIFA President.

Mentioned very little in the mainstream press, however, is how his political background in Jordan will reflect his decision-making and ruling style. You have to hope, but can’t be sure, that he’ll rule and redistribute income like the democratically-elected leader he is, not the scion of a ruling, authoritarian family (that he also is.)

There’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, the Bahraini head of the Asian Football Confederation who came into power in 2013, who announced his candidacy two weeks ago. He’s not currently banned by FIFA’s Ethics Committee, but that may only be because they don’t look at minor things like torture. Human rights organisations in Bahrain accuse Salman of playing an integral role in the crushing of Arab Spring protests in 2011 against his family’s rule over the tiny island. According to Human Rights Watch, everyone in the family was in on it; Salman, then head of Bahrain’s FA, purportedly identified from photos Bahraini athletes and coaches taking part in demonstrations who were then imprisoned and interrogated (violently). Salman vehemently denies the charges.

On the less authoritarian-y side of the spectrum is Trinidadian former player and national team captain David Nakhid. When not running football camps in Lebanon, Nakhid has evidently been gearing up for a presidential campaign touting his outsider, uncorrupted status and experience at football’s lower levels as a player and camp administrator, not just a high-level executive. If there was ever a Bernie Sanders in FIFA’s elections, it would be him.

The deadline to submit isn’t until the 26th though, so plenty of other individuals working behind the scenes could submit a last-minute bid. We could see a bid from David Ginola, the former French international whose farcical two-week campaign last election season was revealed to be a Paddy Power press junket. We might see Diego Maradona, who declared his intention to run in June but has yet to file the necessary paperwork. We might even see Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the World Chess Federation, former leader of the Buddhist-majority Kalmyk Republic within the Russian Federation, and firm believer in alien abductions, launch a bid.

Whether any of these guys is elected, or Sepp climbs out of the ground to run again, the real accomplishment for the next candidate-elect won’t be to fulfill all of their campaign promises. It will simply be to restore trust and diminish cynicism in FIFA as a governing body for the sport.

THE TURF