FIFA’s Presidential Election: Why Bother?

There’s a glimmer of hope and a bit of a media spectacle about the prospect of Sepp Blatter losing his presidency at the 65th FIFA congress. High profile candidates including former Portugal star Luis Figo, Dutch FA chief Michael Van Pragg and Jordanian prince Ali have been globetrotting for support in a vain attempt to wrangle the presidency away from Blatter. The British FA for instance has declared their support for Prince Ali, who is the current Vice-President of FIFA, whilst Denmark has declared their support by nominating Figo. Things are looking positive, right?

Here’s the kicker. Earlier in April, Africa declared their support for Blatter. All of Africa. That’s 54 member associations out of the 209 who are able to vote in the election. The President of CAF (the African Football Confederation) Issa Hayatou declared that Africa was “comfortable” with Blatter as president of arguably the most important and influential sporting bodies in the world. This means that, effectively, Blatter needs to “legally induce” (bribe) only 51 of the remaining member associations to continue his rule.

To put this into context, Hayatou declared support for a man whose listed achievements as president include overseeing the introduction endemic corruption to FIFA, implicitly legitimising slavery by handing the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and losing numerous key sponsors from the organisation due to mismanagement. That’s without even mentioning his ghastly record of public sexism, racism and homophobia. Nor his atrocious belief that draws should be eliminated from the code. Quite an impressive, and certainly not exhaustive, list of achievements.

So how on earth would any member association declare their support for Blatter, let alone 54? The reason is a good explanation as to why it’s likely Blatter will win over 51 more associations. The people who are in positions of power in world football are under threat if Blatter loses. The idea of Figo or vocal opponent Van Pragg introducing any sort of notion of good practice threatens the cushy lifestyle that many of FIFA’s executives lead as a result of unchecked corruption which flourishes under Blatter. Hayatou, for instance, is somehow still chief of the CAF after 27 years despite being officially reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee for his rampant corruption. Jack Warner, the FIFA executive Australia didn’t bribe enough to secure his vote for the 2022 World Cup, was allowed to hold onto his Presidency of CONCACAF until 2011 despite many allegations of corruption and fraud. Even when he resigned, he did so with a “presumption of innocence” granted by FIFA.

The common denominator is that these two have had the backing of Blatter for some time. Secret ideals between Blatter and anyone important and corruptible in world football inevitably surface every few years. These are the sorts of people have absolutely no incentive to vote for change where their personal benefits from the job are at stake – much like the inner circle of a dictator in an authoritarian government. Whilst Warner may no longer be involved, that wouldn’t stop some of Blatter’s other dear executive committee friends around the world from continuing to side with him.

The endgame is this: Blatter will win the election in May. With any luck, Figo, Van Pragg and Ali will be able to erode some of his legitimacy by taking away a proportion of his votes. But the reality is circular. So long as corruption remains endemic within FIFA, there won’t be the change at the top required to stop it.