KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- The election to choose the next president of embattled world football federation FIFA will be held on February 26, most of the way towards next year’s ordinary congress.
That was the one definitive conclusion reached by a special meeting of the executive committee this morning in Zurich which was also due to consider reform proposals.
Pushing the election back until late February will intensify demands that president Sepp Blatter – who decided to “lay down the mandate” four days after being re-elected in May – should quit with immediate effect. He is likely to resist with the lure of being able to direct events around, and preside over, the annual star-studded FIFA Gala on home turf in Zurich next January.
Frenchman Michel Platini, president of European federation UEFA, is one of the early favourites as a possible successor but has long flip-flopped over whether he wants the job. French sources suggest he might be persuaded to do so on a on-term basis.
However candidates have until October 26 to step forward with the essential five nominations. It is unlikely that serious candidates will rush to declare an interest too early.
The prospect of having to prop up FIFA’s wrecked reputation for a further seven months may dismay its image and media advisers after the cataclysmic events of the past seven weeks with arrests of senior football figures amid corruption allegations concerning more than $150m.
Notably absent from today’s exco meeting was Brazil’s Marco Polo Del Nero who fled for home after the arrest of his CBF presidential successor Jose Maria Marin in Zurich in May. Del Nero, as a Brazilian citizen, cannot be extradited under national law as long as he stays home.
Until now the greatest threat to FIFA’s stability was in the 1920s when it was almost ripped apart in disputes over amateurism and relations between world war enemies; the end of the decade brought it teetering on the brink of bankruptcy after misjudged investments.
But back then FIFA boasted less than a quarter of its current 209 membership and none of the enrichment opportunities from billion-dollar television and sponsorship contracts . . . and the ‘commissions’ (aka bribes) and money-laundering temptations to which too many of its greedy past directors have succumbed.
Half of the membership of the exco who, in December 2010, awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar have been wiped away by proven or substantial allegations of corruption.
The latest nadir was reached only on this last May 27 when seven men, including two of FIFA’s seven vice-presidents, were arrested in Zurich on indictments handed down from the United States Department of Justice concerning allegations of bribery and corruption over two decades.
The avalanche of controversy continued with the re-election of Blatter, his subsequent resignation, the exit of communications director Walter De Gregorio, allegations of widespread fraud and World Cup bid bribes plus the ramping-up of vari-focal investigations by both United States and Swiss authorities.
If Blatter does step down it will be 269 days since he declared the intention though, after his U-turns in recent years on his own retirement and video technology, no-one in the game will believe it until a successor has been installed.
Swiss investigations have revealed 81 suspicious financial transactions declared by local banks including a rash of withdrawals after the May 27 arrests.
Only last Wednesday Jeffrey Webb, former FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF leader and one of the Zurich Seven, was extradited to the US where he has been released to house arrest on corruption charges which he denies.
Major FIFA sponsors such Coca-Cola and McDonald’s in adddition to pressure groups such as Transparency International and the International Trade Union Confederation have stepped up demands for “independent reform of FIFA led by an eminent person.”
Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan is one name which has bandied about though whether he would want his reputation and life’s work tarnished by association with ‘brand FIFA’ is another matter.
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