AN era comes to an end today as five candidates jostle to succeed long-reigning Sepp Blatter in today’s extraordinary congress/presidential election of the World Football governing body (FIFA).
Blatter’s 18-year reign as head of FIFA ended in ignominy after the world body’s ethics committee banned him for eight years though he has always denied the allegations.
The stark reality is that today, someone will replace Blatter though indications from Zurich, Switzerland, show that the boys may have already been separated from the men and it could well be a straight battle between two candidates.
Blatter, a Swiss, had announced his decision to resign four days after he was re-elected in May last year, but he made it clear that he would remain in his position until a new man is appointed.
Blatter and UEFA president, Michel Platini, were later banned for eight years from all football related activities after being fingered in some ‘dirty’ deals.
FIFA’s appeal committee has, however, reduced their bans from eight to six years in recognition of their outstanding service to football.
This means the duo could return to football for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Contesting in today’s election are: Prince Ali Bin-Hussein from Jordan; South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale; Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa; former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne and UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.
After months of intense campaign and lobby for votes by the five candidates, Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman appear to be huge favourites.
From all indications, it would be a major shock if any of the candidates outside the duo win in today’s election.
Gianni Infantino can count on the votes of the majority of UEFA member associations, while he is also likely to win the South American vote.
Asian countries have got behind their own president, Sheikh Salman, while he is also counting on the backing of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Many African countries have formally endorsed him (Salman), but the UEFA general secretary, Gianni Infantino claimed Wednesday that half of the candidates would ‘rebel’ – and that could be crucial.
North America could also have a big say in who wins.
President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, and other top officials of the body are already in Zurich for today’s election.
Also in Zurich are NFF 1st Vice President Seyi Akinwunmi and General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi.
Pinnick who spoke with The Guardian on phone from London on his way to Switzerland on Wednesday evening said he was hopeful everything would go smoothly in today’s election.
A poll of the 209 member associations published Wednesday found only 100 were prepared to confirm who they would vote for, with 68 coming out for Infantino, 28 for Sheikh Salman and four for Prince Ali.
Tokyo Sexwale, who got no endorsements, sidestepped questions about whether he would still be on the ballot today following a meeting with Prince Ali at Fifa’s favoured Zurich hotel.
The candidates, their plans, their chances
Gianni Infantino: The 45-year old from Switzerland is banking on his experience as UEFA general secretary.
He had proposed an expanded 40-team World Cup played across an entire region.
Gianni Infantino has been Platini’s right-hand man at Uefa for more than a decade. He was thrust into the Fifa presidency race after the Frenchman (Platini) was ruled out of it. Born a few miles from Blatter in southern Switzerland, Infantino forged a reputation as a highly-capable administrator, but had been criticised over Uefa’s handling of Greek and Turkish match-fixing scandals.
Tokyo Sexwale: The 62-year old from South Africa is banking on his experience of being in the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for 2010 World Cup, Fifa anti-discrimination task force.
He is proposing that ban be lifted on national team shirt sponsorship.
Sexwale was imprisoned on Robben Island along with late Nelson Mandela before joining the post-apartheid government in South Africa. He went on to become a billionaire oil and diamond-mining magnate and help organise the 2010 World Cup, the bidding process for which is under criminal investigation. Has strenuously denied accusations he received kickbacks worth hundreds of millions of dollars in relation to a mining deal. His election campaign has failed to take off.
Jerome Champagne: This 57 year-old candidate from France is banking on his experience as former Fifa deputy secretary general.
In his proposal, Champagne is seeking increase in the number of Fifa member associations. He attempted to stand at last year’s election but failed to obtain enough nominations. A former French diplomat, Champagne spent 11 years at Fifa until being ousted in 2010 and has been trying to get back in ever since.
A Blatter apologist, he is known to enjoy the backing of his former boss, but that has not translated into promises of votes.
Prince Ali Bin-Hussein: He is 40 years of age. Ali from Jordan was the only candidate among the five to visit Nigeria December last year in the course of his campaign to seek vote from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
He is banking on his experience as former Fifa vice-president and ex-presidential candidate. In his proposal, Ali is seeking publication of the ‘Garcia report’ in full.
Prince Ali is the younger brother of the King of Jordan, and he lost May’s presidential election to Blatter after agreeing to lead Uefa’s opposition to the Swiss’s bid to retain power. He is one of the leading voices for Fifa reform, which has made him powerful enemies within the game. He succeeded in overturning football’s ban on the hijab.
Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa: He is 50 years old from Bahrain and is banking on his experience as Fifa vice-president and Asian Football Confederation president to rule as FIFA president.
In his proposal, Al-Khalifa wants Fifa presidency to become a non-executive role.
He is the most senior of all the candidates and is dogged by allegations of complicity in human rights abuses in his native Bahrain and claims lobbyists offered grants to national associations to vote for him in previous elections, which have both been strenuously denied.
The man from Jordan, Prince Ali, may have lost confidence in the voting pattern, even before today’s election. He wants to ensure delegates do not photograph their ballot papers when they choose the next president, claiming they could be put under pressure to produce evidence of their vote to interested parties.
But today’s Fifa presidential election will go ahead as planned after Ali lost a bid to have the polls suspended.
Ali is unhappy with voting arrangements but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) rejected his case.
The Jordanian wanted transparent voting booths to ensure the election is fair.
“I have done all I can. I regret that the system let us down,” he said.“It is now imperative that voters abide by the ban on mobile phones and cameras in the voting booth.”
Prince Ali also accused the Football Association of not giving presidency candidates a fair enough hearing before deciding how it would vote today.
The FA chose to back Gianni Infantino after chairman Greg Dyke spoke with all five contenders, but Prince Ali said he should have been given a chance to address the organisation’s board as well.
“I think that should be the norm all over the world,” he added.
Prince Ali insisted he would not withdraw from an election in which he could yet play kingmaker for one of Infantino or the favourite, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa.
Unlike May last year, the Baur au Lac escaped an FBI-led dawn raid two days before the election, casting doubt on whether United States or Swiss authorities would pounce again before today’s election.
World football’s election commission had rejected Ali’s original request to suspend it, if it could not “ensure that the vote is conducted in secret”.
On Wednesday, Fifa’s appeal committee reduced Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini’s ban from eight to six years but both disgraced presidents say they will take appeals to the CAS.
Fifa’s appeal committee said the reduction of their bans from eight to six years was in “recognition” of their service to football.
The disgraced presidents of Fifa and Uefa respectively failed to clear their names over a £1.3 million suspected criminal payment, which they were punished over in December but also avoided a renewed threat of life bans.
A “deeply disappointed” Blatter, who wants to oversee proceedings at the Hallenstadion, confirmed he would take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.