By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 20, 2014) US Soccer Players – With Jerome Champagne announcing his FIFA presidential candidacy, maybe we get a better election than last time. Even better for those who enjoy democratic politics, maybe in 2015 more than one candidate makes it all the way to election day. Part of that might hinge on whether or not the current president seeks another term.
Three years ago, FIFA politics turned the presidential election into an exercise in toppling a candidate days before the vote was taken and destabilizing two Confederations in the process.
Back in the summer of 2011, sitting president Sepp Blatter faced a strong challenge from Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam. Running on a campaign based primarily on change, Bin Hammam turned from a Blatter supporter into a staunch critic of the FIFA system. FIFA’s bureaucracy was at issue, with Bin Hammam pushing for a leaner organizational structure and greater accountability.
Bin Hammam’s campaign unraveled after a meeting with the Caribbean Football Union, one of the three subsets of CONCACAF. Amid accusations of money for votes, Bin Hammam withdrew from the FIFA presidential election leaving only Blatter as a standing candidate. Acting quickly, FIFA banned Bin Hammam eventually turning a preliminary ban into a life ban. Bin Hammam’s response was to challenge the decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. A year later, CAS ruled in his favor but by then his career as a high-level soccer administrator was over. FIFA also provisionally suspended CONCACAF president Jack Warner, who resigned.
Out of this Blatter got four more year and a mandate for change. Namely, reorganizing the executive committee in a way that was more transparent and extending that transparency throughout the organization. Again leaning on the size of FIFA’s bureaucracy and its multinational obligations, not enough has happened since the summer of 2011 to show a sharp break between then and now.
That’s where Champagne becomes the latest change agent. He’s certainly not alone. Running against what is makes up the bulk of politics. Instead of ‘change,’ Champagne subs in ‘hope.’ His official campaign slogan is ‘Hope for Football’ and there are enough reasons to need it. Champagne is also a former diplomat, soccer writer for the magazine France Football, and FIFA official who worked on Blatter’s 2002 presidential campaign. He left FIFA in 2010.
Champagne is the first candidate to announce, but even that depends on who he’ll run against. If it’s Blatter, Champagne wasted no time in suggesting that might end his candidacy. If it’s an open field, there’s the expectation that other candidates might like their chances without having to displace the incumbent.
That open field also raises a different point for all the candidates. They can try running against Blatter by proxy, using FIFA as we find it as the obvious problem. Yet, they’ll also be running against each other in what could be subtle – at least by FIFA standards – distinctions.
Hardly anybody at the highest levels of executive power in world soccer seems happy right now. Brazil’s ability to host the World Cup faces open questions months from the tournament starting. In Brazil, FIFA finds itself pulled into a broader societal debate on how a country should spend its money. In Russia, the site of the 2018 World Cup, the issues FIFA faces get an early debut with next month’s Winter Olympics. In Qatar, the basic international calendar is now either a contentious issue waiting for an Executive Committee vote or a decision FIFA already made.
Add to that the countries put off by the last World Cup vote, and there are open avenues for any candidate to stress change, reform, hope, or whatever else you want to call moving away from FIFA business as usual.
Barring another surprise announcement, we’ll have to wait until after the World Cup for the next round of FIFA presidential politicking. Both Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini are waiting until then to officially declare their intentions. Blatter himself can show FIFA making changes while once again stressing the difficulty of sweeping reform in an organization where each of the 209 national associations have an equal vote.
If that sounds familiar, it’s what we saw before the Bin Hammam candidacy ended abruptly in 2011. FIFA exists in its current form for a variety of reasons. As Blatter stressed over and over during that campaign season, no president exists beyond the scope and willingness of the Executive Committee. With that in mind, and with only those national associations holding votes, changing FIFA needs broad support from many of the same people who helped create the current version.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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