Meet the candidates: The eight vying to become FIFA president
The submission date for candidates running for election as the next FIFA president passed Monday, and eight names garnered the required backing from five member associations to stand (Brazilian great Zico, however, was not one of them). FIFA has been determined that the election will take place at the next congress meeting scheduled for February 26 in Zurich. At least we know that there will be no Frank-Underwood-House-of-Cards-style reverse maneuver from Sepp Blatter, who is currently suspended for 90 days by the ethics committee that he set up.
Suspended UEFA president Michel Platini received the same sanction, and FIFA’s electoral committee has yet to rule whether it will allow him to stand. So he is on the eight-man list, for now, but may not last the distance. Given the last six months at FIFA, there is bound to be another twist in the tale before election day.
Here is a rundown of the eight men insisting they are good and true:
Current position: President of Jordan Football Association and founder and president of the West Asian Football Federation
Credentials: A FIFA vice president between 2011 and 2015, Prince Ali won 73 votes against Blatter in last May’s election.
“I had the courage to fight for change when others were afraid,” he said.
He ran that campaign on a platform of transparency and grassroots development, and promised to increase the proportion of FIFA annual revenues returned to member associations. A respected reformist, he was instrumental in persuading FIFA lift its ban on the hijab in 2010. One of his pledges is that the FIFA president serves only one term.
Integrity test: No skeletons emerged around the last election.
Current position: Liberian FA president
Credentials: The head of the Liberian FA has been a public critic of Blatter in the past and believes his lack of experience within FIFA is a positive.
“All the others who are running have played some part [in FIFA affairs] and if we have to reform soccer, none of them should be given the right to run the organization," he told the BBC. "They themselves have caused the problems we have today. So they cannot be a solution.”
He also heads up largest importer of petroleum in Liberia, Srimex Oil and Gas Enterprise. He has said he would stand down if the African confederation wanted to support another candidate. Between Bility and Sexwale, the South African would get the nod.
Integrity test: He has a checkered history with the African confederation, which in 2013 banned him from all football activity for six months for violating statutes relating to the use of confidential documents.
Current position: Consultant
Credentials: The former French journalist and diplomat spent 11 years working at FIFA, many of them as Blatter’s political adviser and right-hand man. He left in 2010 and has consulted for associations across the world. His manifesto may upset Europe: he wants the CAF and CONCACAF to have more World Cup places and more seats on FIFA’s Executive Committee. Has also requested more input from clubs, leagues and players in a new-look FIFA–but sadly not from fans. He wants three televised election debates running up to the election, perhaps forgetting that member associations, and not the public, have the vote. He believes his past at FIFA will help him.
“They want someone who knows how FIFA functions–for the good and for the bad,'' Champagne told the AP.
Integrity test: A long association with Blatter might lead to cynics believing the Swiss would be pulling some strings behind the scenes.
Current position: UEFA general secretary
Credentials: A Swiss-born lawyer who has spent 15 years at UEFA, the last six of them as Michel Platini’s deputy, Infantino was a surprise nomination on Monday. You likely recognize him as the host of UEFA's Champions League draws. His manifesto involves serving the interest of all 209 FIFA member associations and he can point to the good work UEFA has done, especially with smaller associations.
“The values at the heart of UEFA are shared by many in the global football family,” he said.
Integrity test: It's hard to avoid the thought that Infantino is Platini’s stooge and will stand down if his boss is allowed to stand.
Current position: Runs his own football academy
Credentials: The only former player in the running, after the likes of Zico, David Ginola and Ramon Vega fell by the wayside, the former Trinidad & Tobago captain (and New England Revolution midfielder) now runs a football academy in Lebanon. He wants to shake up the current state of patronage at FIFA and declared to AP that: “I’m not Mr. Moneybags, I have no luxury of being a prince or being with deep pockets but what I do have is message.” That message involves stopping wealth and power going to Europe.
Integrity test: Nakhid played when Jack Warner was Trinidad & Tobago FA president, but the candidate has distanced himself from his disgraced compatriot.
“Even when I was 24 I labeled him a consummate liar,” he said.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Nakhid was ruled ineligible by FIFA on Wednesday, as one of his required five nominating FAs apparently backed another candidate as well, which is against FIFA rules.]
Current position: [Currently suspended] UEFA president
Credentials: The former Ballon D’Or winner and captain of France’s successful 1986 European Championship campaign, Platini was on France’s 1998 World Cup organizing committee and then worked for FIFA, where he has been on the Executive Committee since 2002. Platini became UEFA president in 2007 and his Financial Fair Play regulations have been criticized for not leveling the playing field and instead reducing the Champions League, which has increased its revenue, to a closed competition for the elite. His overhaul of UEFA’s international competition, expanding Euros to 24 teams, has been a success. A long-time ally of Blatter, Platini was expected to replace the FIFA president in 2011 but Blatter reneged on his promise to stand down and the pair have been sworn enemies ever since.
Integrity test: Blatter claimed a threat from Platini reduced his brother to tears, while we are still waiting for a suitable explanation for a $2 million payment to Platini from Blatter received nine years after Platini completed the supposed task at hand. That has left him “somewhere between a witness and a suspect” despite the Frenchman’s claims of a smear campaign. Platini openly admitted he voted for Qatar in the 2022 World Cup bidding and insisted that his son working for a Qatar-owned company was no conflict of interest.
Current position: Asian Football Confederation president and FIFA vice president
Credentials: Formerly head of the Bahraini FA, Sheikh Salman is the King of Bahrain’s cousin. His AFC manifesto was based on targeting match-fixing, grassroots development and increasing the number of women players: last month, the AFC was the first confederation to hold a women's futsal championship. In a recent interview with the BBC, the soft-spoken Manchester United fan said he would not take a salary as FIFA president and he still backs the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to be held in Russia and Qatar, respectively. FIFA, he said, needed "a firm hand to run the world body competently and with a determination to conduct its affairs professionally and with maximum transparency”.
Integrity test: Sheikh Salman has denied claims from human rights groups that he oversaw the imprisonment and torture of players after three months of protests against the Bahraini regime during the 2011 Arab Spring.
Current position: Businessman
Credentials: A former member of the organizing committee for South Africa's 2010 World Cup, Sexwale–pronounced "Sesh-wah-lay"–became close to Blatter after working on FIFA’s anti-racism committee and mediating in the row between Israeli and Palestinian soccer federations. A former Robben Island prisoner alongside Nelson Mandela, he has served as Cabinet Minister under two South African presidents and once considered running after Mandela. He is now a multi-millionaire businessman, an oil and diamond magnate, who has starred in South Africa’s version of "The Apprentice" and reportedly bought his own island in the Indian Ocean for $70 million.
“Win or lose, people will know that there was an African who was here who shook things up,” Sexwale said on announcing his candidacy.
Integrity test: Sexwale was involved in a divorce scandal in 2013, in which his ex-wife accused him of "physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse and cruelty." South Africa's 2010 World Cup has also been linked to $10 million bribe during the voting process.