KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Prince Ali of Jordan and Chung Mong-joon both say that their ambition is to be a one-term president of FIFA. If either is elected he will confront a race against time. The man who is elected next February 26 will have only three years, not four, in which to bale out the sinking ship.
This is not an issue for negotiation. FIFA statutes dictate that the election of a president must take place at the congress in the year following a World Cup. The mandate is for four years.
Sepp Blatter was elected for a fifth term in May, as statutes demand, in the congress of the year following the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. Four days later he called a news conference to announce that he had decided to “lay down his mandate.”
The archaic formulation of the announcement raised eyebrows but Blatter was merely following the legal construction demanded by the letter of the statutes.
These state: “The president shall be elected by the Congress for a period of four years in the year following a FIFA World Cup™. His mandate shall begin after the end of the Congress which has elected him.”
The mandate to which Blatter was elected last year was for four years so, on his departure from the post next February, a further three years and three months will remain – assuming that the 2019 election congress will be staged in May, as per usual.
No wonder Prince Ali, Chung, UEFA president Michel Platini and the other presidency contenders were all furious that Blatter decided to drag out his departure to a full nine months into his ‘mandate’. The longer he hangs on the less time any of them will have to undertake the FIFA rescue.
Only twice in the past has an interim election been necessary. The first time was in the spring of 1956. Belgium’s Rodolphe Seldrayers, elected in 1954, died in October 1955. England’s Arthur Drewry, as senior vice-president, took over as interim president until he was elected formally at the 1956 Lisbon Congress, defeating Frenchman Lafarge 38 votes to 16.
Drewry then also died in office, in March 1961. Switzerland’s Ernst Thommen stepped in as interim president but lost the subsequent election to England’s Sir Stanley Rous in the following September.
Both of those changes, of course, were caused by death in office. No-one, in the 111 years of FIFA, had ever voluntarily served notice of resignation in mid-term, as has Blatter.
Until 2002 the four-yearly election of the president was always scheduled for the congress on the eve of the start of the World Cup finals.
That was when it all changed.
The run-up to that World Cup in Japan and South Korea – a complex enough operation as it was – was marred and scarred by the financial near-catastrophe suffered by FIFA in Blatter’s first term.
Despite coming in for fierce criticism from the Congress podium he was re-elected easily in a contest with Issa Hayatou, the African confederation president supported by Europe.
After that it was decided, for the sake of the World Cup itself, that the presidency election should be held at the congress in the year after a World Cup. Hence Blatter’s second term in office ran for five years from 2002 to 2007.
The time switch also made sense from an accounting point of view. Now the financial weight of World Cup revenues – which constitute more than 90pc of FIFA’s income – can be published as soon as practicably possible, allowing for an effective financial assessment of the last four-year cycle.