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Can Luis Figo and co smash the Blatter system?

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So for a few months at least, FIFA will become a multi-party democracy.

After former Portugal international Luis Figo joined the list of those challenging incumbent Sepp Blatter, there is now a broad range of candidates offering change.

The big question is whether FIFA’s member associations will truly embrace the opportunity to listen to the alternatives and choose the best candidate for the future of the game, or whether the Blatter electoral machine will simply churn out a depressingly predictable outcome.

If this were an open ballot of soccer fans, it would be a fascinating contest with voters given a choice of men from differing backgrounds in the game.

There is the option of Dutch FA chief Michael van Praag, a European official with extensive experience and who has been a vocal critic of Blatter.

Also from Europe, there is the former French diplomat and ex-FIFA official Jerome Champagne who has presented himself as a moderate reformer and a more gentle critic of the status quo.

From Asia, there is Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, the Jordanian royal who has been president of his country’s FA since he was 25 and who at 39-years-old is the youngest of the candidates.

Then there is David Ginola, the former Spurs, Newcastle and France winger, whose candidature has been roundly criticized for being publicly backed by a bookmakers.

In contrast, Figo, the classy former Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder, offers a more credible challenge from an articulate and thoughtful ex-player and the chance to put the game in the hands of someone who has played it at the highest level.

And then there is Blatter himself, the 78-year-old who has presided over one of FIFA’s financial growth but also its most scandal ridden eras, involving the questionable decisions to hand the World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar.

If this were a ballot of soccer fans, Blatter would surely struggle to make it to the second round of the vote and Figo would likely be one of the favorites.

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But, of course, it isn’t football fans, or players or club officials, who will decide who the next FIFA president will be – it is the heads of the 209 member associations who make up the congress who will cast the crucial votes.

And these men in suits, many of them from countries without a single fully professional club let alone a real professional league — a number of them from countries without effective checks and balances on corruption, are arguably the only group of people who seem to believe that Blatter offers the best leadership available to the game.

Or rather, they believe Blatter is the safest bet if they are to continue receiving their flow of cash from Zurich in a system that clearly provides insufficient controls over the spending of those resources.

Just before the World Cup in Brazil last year, FIFA held their congress and the link between cash and votes was made explicit by Blatter.

The FIFA president announced $750,000 bonuses for all 209 national associations as well as a generous extra $7 million for the regional confederations.

Barely pausing for breath, he then asked congress if they really wanted to get rid of him by imposing term or age restrictions on the FIFA president?

To no-one’s surprise, congress rejected limits which would have brought an end to the Blatter regime and ensured there would never be a long-lasting rule of that kind again.

With that vote won, Blatter then, in his usual corny style of false-modesty, suggested he would be happy to run again if that was the wish of those who had just had their budgets filled up with fresh funds from ‘the home of football’.

It was blatant but it was still slightly less nauseous than the sight at previous congresses where Blatter has been heralded by a series of delegates leaping to their feet to loudly declare their unswerving commitment to his great leadership.

That is the client system that Blatter’s predecessor João Havelange created after beating England’s Sir Stanley Rous in 1974 and which the Swiss took over in 1998. The system works and has consistently delivered him a pile of votes from Africa, Asia, South America and the CONCACAF region.

The key question in this election is whether a single candidate can emerge from those against Blatter who is capable of breaking that block of votes by convincing those delegates that they will be even better off without Blatter.

It was noticeable in Figo’s statement on Wednesday that he made reference to increasing the money going to national federations by dipping into FIFA’s vast reserves.

It may be depressing but it is a depressing reality that beating Blatter will involve such promises, as much, if not more than talk of reform. Perhaps to smash the system, it needs to be used and turned against Blatter.

Still the ‘Zurichologists’ in the media believe the numbers look good for Blatter – he starts the campaign with the assumed backing of most of Africa, Oceania, South America and CONCACAF and a slice of Eastern Europe.

The odds are that the Blatter machine will deliver again. If it does, it will say nothing about Blatter’s abilities as a football administrator but plenty about the system he has created and the people who populate it.

Those who wish to see a clean, modern, efficient and progressive FIFA can only hope that one of the challengers finds a way to turn the tables on Blatter.

Editor’s note: Every Thursday, World Soccer Talk featured columnist Simon Evans shares his thoughts and opinions on world soccer topics. You can follow Simon on Twitter at @sgevans.

 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. CTBlues

    January 29, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    FIFA lost 3 more sponsors in Johnson & Johnson, Continental Tire, and Castrol which brings it to a total of 5. Next up Coca-Cola, Visa, Hyundai, and Adidas hopfully because Gazprom is not going to pull their sponsorship.

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