My table for the FIFA Presidential elections
As many football fans know, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, recently banned former President Sepp Blatter and the man who was seen as his likely replacement and head of UEFA, Michel Platini, for 8 years under corruption charges. After the ban was announced, football fans from around the world celebrated as if each of their countries had just won the World Cup as the 40 year, fraudulent reign of the Swiss Blatter came to an end.
FIFA’s decision to ban such high ranking officials should be lauded in itself, but the upcoming decision of who should replace Blatter as the governor of world football is a crucial one with many issues up for debate. The election will ultimately decide the direction FIFA as an organization goes, be that down the same path of corruption and inefficiency or forging a new way of reforms and transparency, with the fate of world football hanging in the balance.
According to ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti, there are 5 people running for the prestigious and contentious office worth mentioning. Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Jerome Champagne of France, Gianni Infantino of Switzerland, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa are all running, each with different ideas about how to move the football governing body forward.
Let’s look at the candidates in a different way – through the issues and where each member stands. To keep score of where members stand on these key issues, a ✓ is worth 3 points, a ⁓ is worth 1 point, and a ✘ is worth 0 points.
Corruption and transparency are the most critical reforms needed, given the recent and longstanding history that the organization has gone through. The last thing football needs is another Sepp Blatter.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein has plans to make the organization more transparent and has never been associated with scandal, within the organization or in his other footballing pursuits. ✓
Jerome Champagne worked closely under Sepp Blatter for 11 years, raising questions as to his involvement in the scandal and his style of leadership. However, he does hope to give league and club representatives more influence in the organization which would hopefully provide transparency in the organization and limit the possibilities of corruption – but that’s about it. ⁓
As secretary general of UEFA, Gianni Infantino ran the organization corruption and conflict free. Although he is associated with the now banned Michel Platini, most of his ideas revolve around limiting corruption in the organization and letting the football take care of itself. ✓
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has been associated with money laundering in Bahrain as head of the Bahranian Football Association, as well as crushing protests in Bahrain. ✘
Tokyo Sexwale has no strong or original plans to eliminate corruption or institute transparency, and was “associated” with Blatter. ✘
So far, the table shows…
Now let’s look at each candidate’s experience.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein served as a Vice President for Asia in FIFA as well as President of the Jordanian Football Association. These aren’t very high ranking positions, and he likely gained some of them because of the position of his father. ⁓
Jerome Champagne served as FIFA director of international relations, and was able to solve many conflicts diplomatically over his tenure. He also has good relationships with many in the organization. ✓
Gianni Infantino served as UEFA secretary general during one of its most prosperous periods, and managed the organization on a detailed basis without any conflicts, pleasing shareholders and member nations alike. He is also Swiss and Italian and has good relationships with most nations in Europe. ✓
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa served as President of the Asian Football Confederation and Bahranian Football Association. While his times in office weren’t without conflict, he knows how to manage a large organization. ⁓
Tokyo Sexwale was leader of the FIFA Committee on Racism and Discrimination and has a decent amount of political experience and a large background in business He also has connections to many African nations, and his election would strengthen football in developing nations. He hasn’t been in charge of such a large organization, though, and his charisma might not be enough on such a large stage. ⁓
The table after Matchday 2:
Before looking at some individual ideas, here is the last major issue that should be considered: the World Cup. To be fair, my own opinion will color how I award points to these candidates – the World Cup is already big enough as it is, and adding more nations will lower the quality of football we see there. If it were up to me, I would increase the emphasis on the qualification process for the World Cup and make it something fans are eager to watch so that countries that do not qualify get more involvement and revenues, even expanding the qualification process to include more matches where possible. I would then leave it up to a vote of the Confederations to decide whether to expand the World Cup itself, but ensure that only the group stage involvement is expanded and keep the Finals (the knockout round) restricted to 16 teams.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein wants to expand the World Cup to involve more nations. ✘
Jerome Champagne doesn’t want to expand the World Cup (ok…), but thinks it is already too big and wants to shrink it if possible (so close!). ⁓
Gianni Infantino wants to expand it. ✘
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa wants to have stakeholders look at the issue and decide for themselves, the earliest change looking towards the 2026 World Cup (close enough!). ✓
Tokyo Sexwale wants to expand it. ✘
So the table after matchday 3 is:
Now let’s look at a specific, defining idea from each candidate, their “x factor” so to speak.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein is a tough one, because he doesn’t have any revolutionary ideas (besides transparency). He is appealing because he already ran against Blatter once to try to fix the organization and got a decent amount of the votes, and is the frontrunner in the race for the presidency. ⁓
Jerome Champagne, as mentioned previously, wants to add league and club representation to the organization, which would increase the transparency of the organization and allow all groups affected by a FIFA action to have a direct voice. ✓
Gianni Infantino essentially wants to focus on reforming the organization and leaving the football to itself, a needed change in mentality that would take the organization in the right direction. Football is organic, and shouldn’t need sweeping and often unfair regulations by a corrupt governing body. ✓
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has an interesting idea of dividing FIFA between the business side and the organizational side, but I’m not sure how easy or feasible that would be to do given the strong connection sponsors have with tournaments and football in general (although I would like to see it tried on a smaller scale in a footballing organization). What really should be mentioned is his support of the idea to implement a 60 minute clock that stops when the ball goes out or there is a stoppage in play. I cannot even describe how much this idea frustrates me – trying to fix something that isn’t broken will undoubtedly lead to massive organizational issues, boring games and tedious stoppages, and the idea that it will somehow weed out “play-acting and time-wasting” (as described by Gab Marcotti) is ridiculous given the ways that teams in other sports with stopped clocks (such as basketball) continue to find ways to run down the clock or regain possession, sometimes more than what occurs in football. It’s absolutely absurd and the easiest way to ruin the flow and strategies of the “beautiful game.” ✘
Tokyo Sexwale wants to sell shirt sponsorships on international jerseys – an idea that many see as inevitable, but money has too much influence over football already and we should try to maintain the purity of the game for as long as possible. ✘
The final table at the end of the season is as follows:
While it is my opinion that Gianni Infantino will be the best leader of FIFA and world football, it’s pretty safe to say that almost any of these candidates will be better than the tyrannical Sepp Blatter. Football fans can only hope that their pure, beautiful game will remain so under the next FIFA president despite the increasing pressures of big money.
I strongly encourage you to look at the source for this article: ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti, a sports journalist you can trust.