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Monday, March 9, 2015


KNVB chairman Michael van Praag laid out his manifesto for the forthcoming FIFA presidential election at an extraordinary general meeting of the Dutch FA in Zeist on 2/3/15. Two of the other three candidates - Jordan's Prince Ali Bin-Hussein and former Portuguese international Luis Figo - have already stated their cases. Only Sepp Blatter, the incumbent holder of football's top job, has yet to inform the football world of his plans, and quite possibly does not feel the need to do so.

Van Praag's manifesto was not quite the only item on the agenda; the KNVB provided details of their progress in building their new KNVB Campus, which will service the training needs of every Dutch national side up to U-21 and women's national team level. The new facility, which should be completed in mid-2016, will also be used to train referees; the federation's new offices and a hotel are also to be situated on-site. The meeting also covered a vote ratifying van Praag's candidacy and the KNVB's covering of the costs involved.

The meeting was brought forward some three hours ahead of schedule in order to facilitate van Praag's early departure for Ascunción, Paraguay, to attend the COMNEBÓL congress; as a result, the scheduled press conference was cancelled, thus denying the assembled press the opportunity to question the KNVB chief on his manifesto.

EVERY JOURNEY STARTS WITH A GENERAL MEETING: Michael van Praag arrives at the Woudschoten Hotel and Conference Centre, Zeist, ahead of the KNVB's Extraordinary General Meeting which was called to discuss his candidacy for the FIFA presidency

His trip to Paraguay was his first real chance to "press the flesh"; on 29/1/15, the day of his candidacy announcement, he already had the support of the five national associations needed to mount his campaign. Apart from the KNVB, of course, the SFA and the governing bodies representing football in Belgium, Romania and the Faroe Islands had already provided written guarantees of their support, which were delivered to FIFA HQ in Zürich the day before his announcement.

The manifesto itself contained much food for thought, and van Praag began by announcing that his campaign would be carried out under the title "Football For Everyone." He mentioned that the KNVB were the first football association to fully recognise the rights of the LGBT community (that will most probably be enough to cost him the vote of the Russian FA), and also that they were one of the first to combat racism and sexism in football).

He stated that, should he be voted in as the next FIFA president, that costs would be brought down to an acceptable level and that profligate projects such as the promotional film that was brought out last year at a cost of some €20000000 would become a thing of the past. The financial gap between the richest and the poorest countries was growing annually, he said, and this would have to stop.

During his announcing of his candidacy on 29/1/14, van Praag promised that he would only serve one term as FIFA president should he be elected, and that he repeated that promise at the congress, adding that he would sign a promise to do so should that be required. He also said that it was the duty of his generation to leave FIFA in a better state for the next generation.

A world trainers' academy would be introduced, where there would be a guaranteed transfer of knowledge and that there would be a discussion as to which training methods were the best and that these would be implemented. 

Similarly, a central referee's academy would be created in order to avoid confusion and conflict among referees with regard to decisions. There would be more room for modern technology in football; van Praag conceded that it would be impossible to implement the use of video technology everywhere, but that it would be used wherever possible. Why, he asked, should the referee be the only person in the entire stadium without access to a replay of a controversial decision during a match when those watching can call up a replay in seconds (unless, of course, they are spending the entire match taking selfies - it might be an idea to request a ban on selfie sticks in stadia)?

The creation of FIFA regional embassies was mooted; there would be at least one per confederation, and their function would be to liaise with football associations which fall under the umbrella of a particular confederation. A Presidents' Board would also be set up; this would involve the heads of the six confederations in decision-making and "give FIFA some of its structure back."

Van Praag was of the opinion that most countries never get the chance to qualify for a major tournament; so, a proposal to increase in the number of countries participating at a World Cup final tournament from 32 countries to 40 was announced, with every one of the 6 confederations receiving an extra place, and that the (co-)hosts, and also the winners of the previous tournament, would also receive a guaranteed place. Should the situation arise where there would only be one host country, this would leave one place free; this would be filled by organising a play-off series.

The above proposal to ensure that each continental governing body would receive an extra place at a World Cup Finals might well be enough to swing the votes of every country in Oceania van Praag's way; after all, itremains the only confederation without an automatic qualifier for the World Cup Finals.

The OFC member states might also benefit from another of van Praag's proposals; he suggested that the annual donation to each FIFA member association would increase from $US 250000 per year to $US1000000. A budget - in addition to FIFA's GOAL project - would be made available for member countries to improve their football infrastructures where needed. 

IN THE FIRING-LINE: KNVB chairman Michael van Praag prepares for the extraordinary general meeting which ratified his candidacy for the FIFA presidency

More prize-money would be made available to World Cup and Confederations Cup qualifiers, but costs would be kept down as FIFA would arrange accommodation for the teams. There would be better insurance for players at World Cup tournaments, but also for those taking part in U-20 and U-18 tournaments and qualifiers.

Van Praag also touched on the need to bring the Garcia Report into the public domain, as FIFA should behave in a normal, decent fashion and be transparent in all facets of its operation. All decisions taken by the ExCo (FIFA's Executive Committee) He would also lay his, and all of the organisation's accounts, open for inspection per proper international accounting standards.

As if to emphasise this, he then informed the gathering that his campaign team would comprise of individuals and organisations from outside the KNVB, and thereafter made public the projected costs for his campaign, which are divided as follows:

Travel: €132750
Campaign literature, communication, etc.: €225000
Other: €36788
Total: €394538

Van Praag concluded by saying that every campaign needs financing, but "if the underdog scores one more goal than the favourite, they've won the match."

There then followed an opportunity for delegates to provide their opinions on van Praag's candidacy, and one of the main officials in the amateur branch of the KNVB stated his opposition to the candidacy, saying that there was much to discuss as that there had been problems in the amateur section due to 50 of its members losing their jobs in the last year due to cost-cutting within the KNVB (the overall total of jobs lost came to around 70), and asked why should the KNVB now spend €400000 on a FIFA presidential campaign? He added that this will cost amateur football a lot, and enquired as to whom would foot the bill for the campaign should the present assembly refuse to endorse van Praag's candidacy.

One of the platform informed the delegates that van Praag, like everyone else in the room, was a volunteer within the KNVB, but would underwrite the entire cost of the campaign himself should the congress refuse to endorse his candidacy for the FIFA hot-seat and also refuse to ratify the KNVB covering the costs of the campaign.

Van Praag added that one-to-one discussions were already underway with various European individuals regarding his campaign, and that a report would be issued every fortnight which would inform its readers about costs incurred during that period and any other developments regarding his campaign.

Another delegate asked whether there was an agreement between the three challengers to Blatter's reign; a response came from the platform that there were no such agreements, but if the three of them were to come to any agreement, this would not be made public.

STATING THE CASE: Michael van Praag delivers his manifesto to the assembled press corps

Before the delegates voted on endorsing van Praag's campaign and the ratification of providing the aforementioned costs, van Praag thanked those present and those who voiced their opinions and said that the "other candidates will not be holding meetings such as this one today."

Van Praag's candidacy and the accompanying costs were approved by an overwhelming majority, but not quite unanimously; out of the 48 votes cast (including via proxy), four delegates voted against whilst one abstained.

There was no further business on the agenda, so it was off downstairs to listen to van Praag deliver his manifesto speech in English before he was hurried out of the press-room and off to Schiphol Airport for his flight to South America.

Michael van Praag's speech shall appear here in full shortly.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sincere thanks are due to Marushka van Soest from the KNVB for her assistance with regard to attending the above meeting and statement to the press. Any errors can be attributed to mistranslation.

Questions have been forwarded to the KNVB and Michael van Praag's team regarding his candidacy and opinions on a number of subjects, as well as to those in charge of the campaigns by Luis Figo and Prince Ali Bin-Hussein and to FIFA for president Sepp Blatter's thoughts. 





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