Voting Process For FIFA Ballon d’Or Award Needs to Change to Remove Bias

Enough ink has already been spent on whether Cristiano Ronaldo deserved to win this year’s Ballon d’Or award. Instead, I want to put a focus on the voting procedure and some issues with it.

National team managers and captains are given the opportunity to vote for the award. On the surface, this may seem fair but after examining the votes of several managers and players, I believe a change must be made. Each voter votes for first, second and third.

Let us start with US Head Coach and Technical Director Jürgen Klinsmann who voted for a player he previously coached, Franck Ribery, as his first choice and then omitted both Ronaldo and Lionel Messi from his ballot. This can be seen potentially as strategic voting. Ribery clearly had a case for the award and I personally would have cast a ballot for him if I were voting. But leaving the other two leading contenders off the ballot is suspicious to say the least. Ottmar Hitzfeld, who also managed Ribery at Bayern, voted for his former player but then voted for the other two finalists, Ronaldo and Messi.

Similar strategic voting patterns can be seen in other ballots as well. Iker Casillas left Messi off his ballot, opting to vote for his club teammate Ronaldo first, Ribery second and Arjen Robben, his former teammate, a surprising third.

While Messi did not vote for himself, he voted three teammates from Barcelona in one, two and three order, strategically omitting the two other potential winners from his ballot. Ribery’s national captain Hugo Lloris voted the Frenchman first but then voted fellow goalkeeper Manuel Neuer second and former Tottenham teammate Gareth Bale third. Radamel Falcao was first on Ronaldo’s ballot while he voted for two Real Madrid  teammates as second and third.

Philip Lahm, Germany’s captain and club teammate of Ribery, did not take the same sort of strategy. Sure he voted for his Bayern teammate but then voted for the other two finalists 2nd and 3rd. The same can be said for Claudio Pizzaro, a teammate of Riberry’s at Bayern, who voted in the same order as Lahm.

Some other possibly biased votes were recorded by players and coaches. Didier Drogba placed his international teammate Yaya Toure at the top of his ballot. Turkish coach Fatih Terim voted Mesut Özil who is of Turkish descent first on his ballot. Italian National Team manager Cesare Prandelli voted for Andrea Pirlo first and did not place any of the finalists on his ballot.

While the idea of having players and coaches vote gives a broader brush to the process, it also leads to obvious biases. Interestingly the media voting seemed far more objective and less biased. Ribery did far better among media than among players and coaches perhaps partially because of his own bad-boy image and difficulties with attitude in the past. Or maybe much of the media interprets the award differently than the players and coaches do.

In any event, obvious conflicts arise by having active players and coaches votes. The same can be said for media in some cases, and while transparency is a good thing in revealing who voted for whom, it may also lead to the need to vote for teammates and players coaches currently manage or formerly managed.

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