Meet the Candidates for FIFA’s Troubled Presidency
FIFA closed the window for its presidential candidate submissions Monday. Here's who's running.
The rat race to head FIFA, the deeply troubled international football organization that is responsible for putting together the sport’s World Cup every four years, will move to a new phase Monday evening after the window closes for new contenders to bid for its presidency.
The election is set for Feb. 26 and, so far, the candidates hail from a variety of countries, including South Africa, Jordan, Trinidad and Tobago, Liberia, Switzerland, and Bahrain, and include a former political prisoner and a prince.
The legality of some potential candidates’ bids remain murky at best. Michel Platini, for example, has been suspended by FIFA for 90 days pending a probe into the one-time soccer star’s potential involvement in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal. Former FIFA Vice President Chung Mong-joon, from South Korea, also intended to run, but earlier this month was barred from the organization for six years for various violations of the organization’s ethics codes.
The winner will replace President Sepp Blatter, who was reelected for a fifth term as FIFA president in May only to announce his resignation days later, after he was accused of overseeing corruption. The Swiss administrator was supposed to maintain his post until the February election, but like Platini, was suspended for 90 days pending corruption probes. One-time Cameroonian soccer star Issa Hayatou, who lost a 2002 bid for the presidency to Blatter, is now serving as the organization’s acting president.
FIFA is based in Switzerland. Authorities there and in the United States are also investigating the involvement of several current and former FIFA officials in cases of international corruption, including the alleged selling of the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively.
To submit their bids, each candidate had to campaign for the backing of at least five national football federations and has to have worked in soccer for at least two of the past five years. Candidates will now need to pass an ethics inspection — something that may eliminate a few, who have come under scrutiny for potential involvement in human rights abuses and international corruption. The window closes at midnight, Central Europe Time.
Here’s a look at each candidate who is currently eligible:
Tokyo Sexwale: The 62-year-old South African anti-apartheid protester who served more than a decade in the infamous Robben Island prison alongside Nelson Mandela would be FIFA’s first African president. Africa has 54 voting national associations, which will boost Sexwale’s chances of a win if he can secure their support. The one-time minister of human settlements has served on FIFA’s anti-discrimination committee and hosted South Africa’s version of “The Apprentice.” Sexwale has also managed a successful career in the mining and energy industries, and is estimated to have about $200 million in the bank — even after spending some $70 million to buy his own Indian Ocean island in 2013.
Musa Bility: Currently the head of Liberia Football Association, Bility lost the backing of the Confederation of African Football in August. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying his hand at FIFA’s presidency. He officially submitted his forms Monday morning, after reportedly securing the support of five associations. After announcing in June that he intended to run, the Liberian said his personality made him a good match for the gig. “I say it like it is. When it’s not right, I don’t back down, and that has gained me some respect,” he said.
Jerome Champagne: A former diplomat, Champagne traded in his career in political diplomacy for sports when he joined FIFA in the late 1990s. The Frenchman stayed with the organization until 2010, when he left his post as director of international relations to serve as football commissioner for the World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal. He also advised football clubs in Palestine and Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. Last year, he challenged Blatter for the title of president but dropped out after failing to garner enough support. After announcing his candidacy for the 2016 elections, Champagne wrote to FIFA’s member associations that it was time “to save FIFA and its role of governance and redistribution, which is in danger at a time when they are needed the most.” He added: “We must also restore FIFA’s credibility and prepare it for the challenges of an ever-evolving world.”
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein: The third son of Jordan’s King Hussein, Prince Ali was the only one to challenge Blatter when the embattled president ran for reelection in May. Blatter beat him 133 to 73, but stepped down days later, after being accused of massive fraud. “I conceded that election,” Prince Ali said in his announcement of his new candidacy. “Not because I was not the best candidate, but because others were using me to make room for themselves. They didn’t have the guts to run, but I did.”
David Nakhid: The former captain of Trindad and Tobago’s national soccer team returned to the Caribbean in August to seek support from officials whom he hoped would back his bid for FIFA’s presidency. The 51-year-old former midfielder had been living in Lebanon, where he runs a soccer academy. But he told Reuters his bid for the presidency has much to do with what he considers an underrepresentation of his home region in the international playing field. “This region has been under-developed due to the inept leadership that came from this part of the world,” he said. Nakhid also said Jack Warner, the former Trinidad minister of national security who resigned as FIFA vice president in 2011 after he was suspended during a corruption investigation, “never really represented this region.”
Gianni Infantino: The Union of European Football Associations backed Infantino’s bid Monday after Michel Platini, the union’s president, was suspended for 90 days earlier this month. A lawyer by training, Infantino served as Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA and helped lead the Financial Fair Play policy, which requires clubs competing in Europe to balance their spending in order to qualify for matches. Platini could not be considered an official candidate during his 90-day suspension, and it was not immediately clear Monday if FIFA would consider allowing him to enter the race late so long as he is not found guilty of any corruption charges, although he may be considered again in January. Infantino has served as the union’s secretary general since 2009, and said he was “humbled and honored” to be named the group’s nominee. “If elected I would lead that change in partnership with all who want to see a FIFA worthy of governing the world’s number one sport with dignity and respect,” he said.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa: President of the Asian Football Confederation president, Sheikh Salman belongs to Bahrain’s royal family and has come under fire for his alleged complicity in the illegal detainment and torture of athletes who participated in pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011. The Bahraini backed Blatter during the May elections, and was himself backed by Blatter during his 2013 bid to lead the AFC. Salman denies all allegations he unfairly targeted athletes in 2011 and in 2013 said that he “always been committed to manage, control and develop our game independently and autonomously without any kind of outside interference.”
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