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Thursday, May 21, 2015

FIFA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: SO, WHAT'S IN IT FOR FOOTBALL'S MINNOWS?

At the time of writing, there is just over a week to go until the great and the good (or not-so-good) in the world of football converge on Zürich for the FIFA Presidential Election, with four gentlemen standing for the top post - whatever anybody from the NF-Board or ConIFA might say - in global football.

The current president, Sepp Blatter, contrary to hints and promises made down the years, will be standing for a fourth term. Attempting to unseat him are Michael van Praag, chairman of the KNVB (Dutch FA), Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, head of the Jordanian FA, and Luis Figo of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Portugal fame.

Of the four, only Blatter has declined to issue a manifesto, claiming that his past record speaks for itself. Pat's Football Blog wrote to all four candidates on a number of occasions, Blatter included, in an attempt to elicit their thoughts on different subjects touching on the smaller members of FIFA, and also on those countries/nations which are still outside FIFA's remit. 

Now, transparency in FIFA, goal-line technology and video technology in general were all - rather predictably - covered in the media ad nauseum, so no questions were put to the candidates as to their thoughts on these subjects. (On reflection, perhaps the question "Will you promise to do away with any thoughts of goal-line and other video technology, and instead re-humanise football by increasing the number of goal-line assistants, and also exiling to north-east Greenland each and every one of those hysterical stadium announcers who try to sex-up the pre-match "entertainment"?" should have been posed.)

The main body of the e-mail forwarded for the attention of all four candidates was as is stated below; there were, of course, one or two minor tweaks depending on the candidate, but you get the jist.

"Firstly, I would appreciate it if he would kindly inform as to [name of candidate] thoughts about combating match-fixing, racism, sexism, homophobia - in fact, all forms of bigotry - within football, and his opinions on the full inclusion of the disabled within the football community.



"I would also like to find out more with regard to his stance on football in the smaller countries within the FIFA family as it would appear that those countries in the lower echelons of FIFA are constantly being squeezed out by the bigger member associations, in both sporting and financial respects. What does he intend do to help the smaller FIFA member countries in the event that he is elected as FIFA President?



"I would also like to request his thoughts on a couple of other subjects to do with football in the smaller countries across the globe.."



"First of all, why have, in the opinion of [name of candidate], countries such as Palau, Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia thus far been refused entry into the FIFA ranks? They are, after all, independent states, they possess football pitches and have the basic infrastructure needed to host international football matches - and to accommodate visiting sides. Should [name of candidate] be elected as FIFA President, would he ensure that the associations representing the aforementioned countries be admitted to FIFA under their tenure?



"Also, should [name of candidate] be elected as FIFA President, would FIFA be willing to give financial and logistical assistance to countries such as Nauru and the Marshall Islands in order for them to set up their own viable football structures?

"Under his tenure, would the rule barring football associations from countries not directly affiliated to the United Nations be lifted?

"If so, would the Gibraltar FA, already a member of UEFA, also be accepted into FIFA at long last, having also been unjustly refused entry? Would Greenland's footbally association (GBU) finally be accepted as a member country of both FIFA and UEFA after being unjustly left out in the cold for so long, and would [name of candidate] actively push for this to become a reality? It could be argued that the GBU were victims of circumstance.

"Would other associations representing non-independent nations such as the Falkland Islands and Niue also be considered for FIFA membership should [name of candidate] become president of FIFA? Would FIFA put aside funds to assist the development of football in these and other territories/dependencies?



"What would be [name of candidate] opinion about the situation of the Monaco FA? They represent an independent country and entry into FIFA (and UEFA) would certainly give them an incentive to organise football there properly, as I believe that AS Monaco are the only team currently operating within Monaco's borders. Would AS Monaco's participation in La Ligue be a hindrance, in his view, to achieving member status of both UEFA and FIFA?

"Finally, should [name of candidate] become president of FIFA, would he ensure that the Oceania Football Confederation receive a guaranteed place at all future World Cup final tournaments?"

Alas, although many an attempt was made to elicit answers to the above set of questions, the quest failed. No response was received from Luis Figo's camp or, predictably enough, the FIFA Media Office. Representatives acting on behalf of Prince Ali Al-Hussein and Michael van Praag did respond, but did not provide answers to any of the questions above; promises were made to provide responses should time allow them to do so.

Picking through the manifestos, all three candidates touched on combating match-fixing, and also discrimination of all kinds under the "racism" banner. However, apart from van Praag mentioning during his manifesto launch that the KNVB were the first football association anywhere in the world to fully integrate the LGBT community into its workings, no explicit mention was to be found anywhere as to how the candidates would tackle homophobia, much less the problems faced by disabled players and fans. 

Prince Ali and van Praag did, however, state their intentions to increase funding for women's football, with the latter calling for equal representation in the boardroom as well as an increased female presence in the changing-room.

All three candidates proposed an increase in funding for each member association from US$375000 per annum to US$1 million (van Praag) or US$2 million (Figo). Van Praag stated his intention to draw up a list of the 50 most vulnerable national associations within FIFA and to set about improving their infrastructures. Figo claimed in his manifesto that 150 national associations would benefit from an extra US$300 million set aside for infrastructure projects. Prince Ali didn't crunch numbers in his manifesto, but did state that there would be a substantial increase in funding for those associations in most need.

All three candidates included in their manifestos the requirement for development centres to be set up world-wide, with one being located within each member confederation. Said centres would be used to help hone the skills and knowledge of players, coaches and referees alike. 

This would certainly benefit the OFC member states, but the development centre would have to be located somewhere such as Fiji in order to facilitate less-arduous journeys for visitors from across Oceania and beyond. A regional hub would also be a boon for football in the Caribbean, which, like the OFC, has a large number of teams in the lower reaches of the FIFA rankings.

There was a glimmer of hope in Figo's manifesto when the following header appeared: "I want to bring back unity in world football and to work together to improve and develop the beautiful game across all territories." Did this mean that he would actively tackle the issues put to him in the aforementioned e-mail? Would he co-operate with the NF-Board and ConIFA? Er, no; he merely stated his willingness to work together with all (member) confederations and member associations.

Luis Figo called for an "open debate" on increasing the number of competing nations at future World Cups to as many as 48, whilst van Praag promised to work towards a future 40-team World Cup Finals, with each confederation gaining an extra place. Prince Ali was in favour of a "gradual extension" of the World Cup. Van Praag's proposal was the closest that any of the candidates came to confirming that, sometime during their hypothetical term in office, the OFC would receive a guaranteed place at any and all future World Cup Finals tournaments.

However, this was not explicitly mentioned in his manifesto, which, pound for pound, was actually the most impressive of the three issued by the candidates, but that, of course, is no guarantee of success. Despite a very solid manifesto, van Praag's campaign will probably be hamstrung by the fact that he is not very well-known outside European circles. Luis Figo will, perhaps fifteen years down the line, make a good candidate for the UEFA presidency, but is nowhere near ready for the rigours of that post, nor those of the FIFA presidency.

The smart money seems to be on Prince Ali taking on Sepp Blatter in a presidential second round. The Jordanian is good for a fair few votes from the Middle East; he is, after all, not only president of the Jordanian FA but also president of the West Asian Football Federation as well as a vice-president of FIFA. His campaign was supported by his home country's association, the FA, the Maltese FA, the USSF and the Belarus and Georgian football associations. 

The MFA president, Norman Darmanin Demajo, endorsed Prince Ali's campaign by saying that the Jordanian understood the needs of the smaller countries. Prince Ali recently returned the compliment, saying that Darmanin Demajo was the inspiration behind his campaign. It remains to be seen whether Prince Ali will go on to fight Sepp Blatter in a winner-takes-the-FIFA-presidency contest, and, if successful, whether he will truly fight the corner of FIFA's smallest member associations, and those who are not (yet) part of football's biggest global family.
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STOP PRESS: It now appears as though, for the time being, four have become three. As this article was being finished, it was reported that Michael van Praag has withdrawn his candidacy for FIFA's top post, and he shall be making his reasons for his decision clear at a press-conference to be held tonight (21/5/15) at Amsterdam's Hilton Hotel. Van Praag will be throwing his weight behind Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein's campaign; Prince Ali shall also be attending the press-conference. For the little that it is worth, especially now, your correspondent's vote (had he had one) would have gone to van Praag.
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Although none of the candidates for the post of FIFA president provided direct answers to the questions posed in the above article, thanks go to Sebastiaan van der Laan (on behalf of Michael van Praag's campaign team) and Laura Church (representing Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein's campaign team) for their responses.








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