June 2, 2015 will be remembered as the day that the United States of America became a football powerhouse. Yes football, not soccer. It didn’t happen on the pitch by beating a major footballing power at the World Cup. Oh no, the U.S. became a football super power after the actions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation led to the resignation of one of the most powerful men in the world, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA. After 17 years as President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter announced his decision to resign only four days after defeating Prince Ali of Jordan, due to the looming cloud of corruption that has damaged the reputation of FIFA and thus the game itself.
While Blatter will remain in power until at least December of this year, this stands as the first of his “actions to reform FIFA” that has caused a large part of the footballing community to breathe a sigh of relief. After reneging on his pledge not to stand for re-election in 2015, the cringe worthy public statements, the lack of transparency regarding the Garcia Corruption Allegations Report, and many other notable gaffs that would take far too much time to list, it’s now time for someone else to take leadership of the world’s most scrutinized sports organization.
Before looking at the possible candidates for the future election, we should look back on Blatter’s legacy — one that will confront the pretenders to the throne. I’m not talking about the legacy of ping ponging from one corruption case to another. I’m talking about the legacy that led Blatter to overwhelmingly defeat Prince Ali with 133 votes to 73 despite the arrests of FIFA officials just days before (the bulk of those votes coming from Africa and Asia).
Since winning the FIFA Presidential election in 1998, Blatter has continued the work of his predecessor, João Havelange of Brazil, to bring football to the world and not just remain under the direct influence of its birthplace, Europe. During his presidency, both Africa and Asia have hosted their first World Cups, and the number of participating teams from under-represented confederations has increased in various FIFA tournaments.
However, Blatter’s blind support from various blocks of the footballing world primarily comes from his dedication to developing the global game. Almost 70 percent of FIFA’s profits go back into the 209-member association, with FIFA’s Goal Program funding and building more than 700 facilities worldwide since its inception in 1998 — the year Blatter first became president. Any candidate looking to ascend to the presidency of FIFA will have to continue the work done by Blatter to bring more equality to football, making it a global game in practice, not just in theory.
Now let us look at some of the individuals who may throw themselves into contention for the soon to be available top job at FIFA.
Since 1998 Issa Hayatou has been the president of CAF, the African football confederation. He ran against Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2002, losing by 56 votes to Blatter’s 139. Yet he is known as one of Blatter’s staunch allies. His relation to Blatter, as well as his checkered past regarding corruption and bribery scandals, will probably make him an unlikely candidate despite a likely African block vote.
Since defeating Lennart Johansson in 2007, Platini has served as the president of Europe’s football governing body, UEFA. Previously a staunch ally and “protégé” of Blatter, Platini became one of his most vocal critics after Blatter reneged on a promise not to stand for reelection in 2015. While currently the favorite, it will be interesting to see how much emphasis voters place on his previous relationship with Blatter, in addition to the fact that he voted for the controversial and ultimately successful Qatar 2022 World Cup bid. It’s important to note, however, that Platini won the UEFA election, a close 27 to 23 vote victory, on a campaign promising greater representation for smaller countries in Europe’s elite club competitions, as well as increased National team competition. If he promises comparable policies on a global scale, he will more than likely win the election.
Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan
The only challenger to Blatter in the recent elections, Prince Ali is the current President of the Jordanian Football Association and has acted as FIFA VP on the FIFA executive committee since 2011. The youngest of the potential candidates, he is seen as the reformist candidate running on a platform of cleaning up FIFA through more transparent practices as well as limiting the power of the presidency. He also indicated in the previous election that he wants to increase the revenue distributed to member associations. The 73 votes he won last time around are commendable, but with a more diverse pool of opponents expected in the future he may actually face a significant challenge.
The 2001 FIFA World Player of the year, retired footballer Figo originally intended to run in this year’s election only to pull out in order to support the candidacy of Prince Ali against incumbent Sepp Blatter. Prior to pulling out, Figo’s campaign focused on the idea of expanding the world cup from the current 32 teams to 40 or 48 teams. The key to this proposal is that the additional places would be prioritized to non-European teams. This proposal again highlights the idea that to be president, one needs to give the developing nations a reason to act as king maker.
The next FIFA presidential election could be an extremely heated contest between a number of viable candidates, all of whom know that the path to success entails the continued provision of policies that benefit developing nations and improve their standing in the global game. Increased funding for facilities and fairer representation in the World Cup could be the make or break issue in an election that promises to be the first step in lifting the dark cloud of corruption that for decades has plagued FIFA.