Award winning investigative journalist James Dorsey
Investigative reporter James Dorsey says preference for familiarity will give Sheikh Salman the edge in FIFA’s presidential election
PUBLISHED: 4:15 AM, OCTOBER 26, 2015
SINGAPORE — As FIFA continues to struggle to maintain its credibility in the midst of ongoing investigations into corrupt practices within the organisation, there remains a sense of uncertainty as to what the future holds for world football’s embattled governing body. But a clearer picture of the direction FIFA will take towards the long and drawn-out road to redemption is expected to emerge after its presidential election on Feb 26 next year. So far, five candidates have officially entered the running to become FIFA’s next president — Prince Ali bin Hussein, UEFA head Michel Platini, ex-FIFA official Jerome Champagne, former Trinidad and Tobago captain David Nahkid and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale (see sidebar on right).
Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is reportedly also keen to contest the elections, but as of press time, he has yet to submit his candidacy. The deadline to formally present their nominations is today.
Of all the potential candidates, however, it is Prince Ali who will most likely effect the necessary reforms within FIFA if elected, said award-winning investigative journalist James Dorsey.
But Dorsey cautioned that Prince Ali would likely lose the election should Sheikh Salman choose to throw his hat into the ring.
“If you’re looking for change within FIFA, then Prince Ali is the most promising candidate,” explained Dorsey, who is a Senior Fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University. “Ali and Champagne are the only two candidates who would probably bring about change. But Ali is the one with a better chance of getting elected.
“Sure, there are minor reforms being introduced in FIFA at the moment. After all, they need to be seen doing something after all that has happened. But while the changes that have been made are important, it still doesn’t tackle the fundamental problems within the organisation. “Based on the current candidates that are running for the presidency, I foresee it will be a bitter battle between Prince Ali and Sheikh Salman for the presidency.
“But the odds favour Salman, because he will likely take a significant part of the votes from Asia and Africa, while he may also attract the European voters who may have previously favoured Platini.”
The problems of FIFA, Blatter and Platini While the web of lies and corruption within FIFA has reportedly been intricately woven for more than a decade, it was only in the middle of this year that its problems finally came to a head.
In May, a US-led corruption investigation led to the arrest of several FIFA officials and senior sports marketing executives — an event that ultimately prompted incumbent president Sepp Blatter to resign, just four days after securing a fifth term in office.
The Swiss authorities also launched an investigation into claims that Russia and Qatar had bribed their way to winning the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively.
Earlier this month, Blatter and Platini were provisionally suspended for 90 days by the FIFA ethics committee, which opened full misconduct proceedings against the two men over a 2011 payment of two million Swiss francs (S$2.9 million) from FIFA to the Frenchman.
Having been favourite to replace Blatter at the helm of FIFA, Platini’s stock has fallen dramatically since the scandal broke, although he will still be eligible to run for president if he manages to pass the election integrity checks.
“Platini could have been the next FIFA president,” Dorsey said.
“But the issue is that his reputation has now been greatly damaged, and he still hasn’t duly accounted for those payments. However, the backdoor is still open for him, so it’s still too early to tell what the Europeans are going to do.
“For now, though, it is Blatter who runs a greater risk of being charged by the authorities, and the keys to how this scandal will pan out lie with the Swiss and US investigators. We don’t know what the Swiss investigations into Blatter will turn up, while the US could decide to expand their investigations dramatically in the future as well.”
The appeal of status quo While there has been huge reputational damage to FIFA following the recent corruption scandals, Dorsey believes that most people within the organisation would be resistant to too much change, too quickly. And this, he says, would give Sheikh Salman the advantage in the elections.
“He (Salman) doesn’t have a history of huge reform or change,” said Dorsey. “And a large majority of the confederations and national associations are happy with the status quo because they have benefited from it.
“So my guess is that if Sheikh Salman is elected, he will come in and do the minimal changes, while still ensuring a certain degree of continuity within FIFA.”
However, Dorsey added that this does not constitute an endorsement of the alleged corrupt practices that blighted Blatter’s reign: “I personally think Sheikh Salman is not corrupt. But there are three fundamental issues — the flawed patronage system, the unhealthy connection between football and governments, and the relationship between FIFA and the regional confederations — that FIFA needs to sort out, which I doubt he’ll do.
“The recent events in Kuwait and Thailand (the Kuwait Football Association was suspended from international football because of government interference, while the Thailand FA’s executive committee was replaced by a normalisation committee following the 90-day suspension of president Worawi Makudi over a possible breach of ethics) are just the tip of the iceberg. There has to be more regulation of the relationship between politics and sport. Sport must be guarded against political and corporate interference.
“There also needs to be more transparency with the various processes within FIFA. But I doubt these issues in the organisation will be addressed (if Salman is elected), unless it’s imposed from the outside.”