FIFA reels, as Blatter, Ali battle in Zurich
FIFA is at the crossroads. Today was supposed to be a day of active politicking by those who want to be in the world football governing body’s executive committee, but the polls has been overshadowed by the snowballing revelations of massive corruption in the house.
There are doubts that the elections would hold as scheduled today, just as many stakeholders in the game have asked incumbent President, Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter, to step down.
The FIFA boss is contesting for a fifth four-year term as the most powerful president in the sports world, but the recent developments have made his continued stay in office untenable.
But that is what Blatter does not want to hear from anybody. The contest is between Blatter, who has been in the post since 1998 and Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein.
On Wednesday, 11 members of the executive committee were indicted in a $150 million corruption scandal, which resulted in the arrests of seven people associated with the administration of the game.
Following the revelations, European football governing body, UEFA, has called on Blatter to step aside to pave way for a new set of people to rebuild the house.
UEFA has also threatened to pull out of the body and boycott the World Cup if Blatter remained FIFA president. On the other hand, despite all the revelations of massive corruption in the house, Africa continues to lend unflinching support to Blatter.
The body yesterday issued a statement opposing calls fro the postponement of the polls, while reiterating its support for the candidacy of Blatter.
According to the CAF statement: “It should be noted that CAF is following with particular attention the events happening in the football family at this time.
“CAF reaffirms its commitment to work and to cooperate in safeguarding the ethical and moral values that underlie the practice of the sport, its organization and administration; hence our full support to the measures initiated by FIFA in recent years in improving good governance.
“CAF reaffirms its readiness to cooperate in this direction with all the institutions that engage and subscribes to zero tolerance vis-a-vis offenders regardless of their profile or origin.” Blatter was locked in emergency talks last night on the crisis engulfing the sport as the scandal spilled over into the international political arena.
Reeling from the unprecedented arrest of a host of top officials from soccer’s governing body, Fifa, which he heads, Blatter, 79, is also facing pull-out threats from key sponsors like Visa, Adidas and Coca-Cola.
The developments came 24 hours after Hong Kong emerged as one of the three key financial centres at the heart of the US$150 million money laundering allegations surrounding Fifa.
The corruption scandal, which led US officials to label the allegations against Fifa as “the World Cup of fraud”, threatens to topple Blatter.
But Mark Sutcliffe, chief executive of the Hong Kong Football Association, yesterday assured Blatter of his formal backing if today’s vote on a new head of the governing body goes ahead in Zurich.
As at press time, all the actors were still at daggers drawn waiting for something to give one way or the other. But should the elections hold, the pundits’ money is on Blatter to get the majority of the 209 votes.
The calculation is that aside the European votes, Blatter has the total support of the African bloc, as well as the majority of the Asian votes, which will leave him with a battle with Prince Ali for the South America (CONMEBOL) and CONCACAF votes. His challenger, Prince Ali, has suddenly been thrown up as a formidable challenger due to the scandals.
Many voters hitherto sympathetic to Blatter are now said to be reviewing their continued allegiance to the Swede.
But even at that, the pundits believe that with Africa, Asia and Oceania firmly behind him, as well as the traditional support from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, Blatter still has the edge.
Prince Ali, a FIFA vice president, is going for broke to unseat Blatter but lacks the solid base of support built up over many years that has served Blatter well in recent elections.
He is backed by former FIFA presidential candidates, Michael van Praag and Luis Figo, the 39-year-old can hope for good support from Europe as well as CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.
Prince Ali will get 15 minutes to present his vision for FIFA to the delegates gathered at Zurich’s Hallenstadion today, before Blatter, who didn’t publish a manifesto saying that people should judge him on his 17-year track record as FIFA boss, makes his appeal to federations before football officials vote. The election is listed as item 17 on the FIFA Congress agenda.