FIFA presidential vote a choice between lesser of two evils

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 March, 1998, 12:00am

The intrigue, or should that be silliness, deepens.

Sepp Blatter, an administrator cum showman, has thrown his hat into the ring for the FIFA presidency alongside that of Lennart Johansson, a mover with a shaky grasp on reality.

The multi-lingual Blatter has been general secretary of football's world governing body since the early 1980s. Although he comes across a bit too much like a circus ringmaster for his own good, he knows everything there is to know about the workings of FIFA and has a genuine love of football.

But is that enough to equip him for the top job? Like it or not, sports leaders Joao Havelange of FIFA and the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Juan Antonio Samaranch act, and are treated, like royalty.

And they have the power-broking capability to go with the crown. Given that Blatter has been the equivalent of a King's equerry to Havelange since 1981, it goes against all the accepted rules of lineage that he is presented to the football world as heir apparent.

There is little about Johansson that could be described as royal. The UEFA president is a schemer with an unfortunate habit of engaging mouth before brain. His most famous gaffe, and that description is giving him the benefit of the doubt, was made when talking about a meeting he had with African football officials.

'When I arrived in South Africa the whole room was full of blackies and it got damned dark when they sat there together,' he is reported to have said.

A charm, and possibly something a bit more substantial, offensive seems to have won over the African vote since then but how can such an important sports body elect a man, who comes out with such crass comments, to its top job? Havelange, for all his failings, is diplomatic to a fault and is a master at saying the right things at the right time to the right people. Not so Johansson.

There is still hope, however, that a more suitable candidate will emerge for what is the second most powerful post in world sport behind the IOC presidency.

Havelange said last week that 'we now have two candidates - and perhaps a third - that we will see on April 7'.

A lot of people involved in football are hoping that Havelange is leaving the door open for Franz Beckenbauer, the only man to captain and manage a winning World Cup team, to slip elegantly through. The Kaiser would receive near unanimous support if he choose to stand for election on June 8 given the respect he commands among officials, players and supporters.

He has said repeatedly that the position does not interest him at the moment but perhaps he has been convinced otherwise of late.

The need for reputable and responsible leadership at the top in football has been made abundantly clear in recent weeks by the scandal at English Premier League side Newcastle.

More than GBP8 million was slashed off the club's trading value at the stock exchange and chairman Freddie Shepherd along with director Douglas Hall resigned after allegations that they mocked the club's players and fans.

FIFA should be careful they don't make a similar mistake to Newcastle's.