Hope for the best, but expect little from Fifa’s next president
Kevin Rafferty says whoever is elected the next chief of football’s world governing body is unlikely to initiate the wide-ranging and radical reforms needed for the beautiful game to grow healthily
It is the world’s biggest religion, with more than 3.5 billion fanatical supporters and 270 million active priests and officials. Yet, on Friday, a mere 209 people will choose the new supreme high pontiff of the religion that is also a US$2 billion-a-year business, with reserves of US$1.5 billion, after months of secret wheeling and dealing that show the leaders have learned little from their recent corrupt history.
Five candidates will contest to be head of the world governing body of football, Fifa. But none has a résumé that would stand up in top business circles.
That does not matter because the electors are the heads of the world’s football associations, one vote per association, irrespective of how many active followers their country has or its contribution to the history or financial health and well-being of football. The new president will replace the disgraced Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, forced out after 17 years.
There is one vote for Brazil, the country that put “beautiful” into the “beautiful game”; one vote for England, whose Premier League clubs are worth about US$12 billion; one vote each for China and India, with 38 per cent of the world’s population; and one vote for Montserrat, which isn’t even a country and has a population of just 4,900.
Of the five candidates, not one talks of having kicked a football professionally; they are apparatchiks of money or power. All talk of reform and the need to clean up the game. Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa from Bahrain – hardly a household name in football – is odds-on favourite. He has strong support in Africa and Asia, whose confederation members tend to follow the party line, even though Fifa’s president is chosen by secret ballot.
Shaikh Salman’s main rival is Gianni Infantino, a lawyer who has been secretary general of the Union of European Football Associations since 2009.
The most interesting candidate is another Arab royal, Prince Ali bin Hussein, a son of the late King Hussein of Jordan. Ali has taken on the Fifa establishment, and alienated it with talk of stopping “mob rule”. He lacks support even in his own Asian confederation.
So the new Fifa president will offer much of the same.
Transparency International investigated Fifa and its 209 associations and found a disturbing lack of financial accountability. The global anti-corruption body has this week released a report saying that 69 per cent of fans have no confidence in Fifa, and 60 per cent would not elect any of the candidates. It warned that it was time for widespread, radical and transparent reforms.
The writing is on the wall for whoever assumes Blatter’s mantle.
Kevin Rafferty started his journalistic career writing about football