The FIFA Elections – And The Winner Will Be..?

by | Feb 26, 2016

So, after all the shite and chicanery, who will win this heaven-forsaken Fifa presidential election? Football, of course, will determinedly not be the winner. The most credible candidate with all the successes of the week and momentum behind them is… Adele. However, the “all-important” reform proposals, to be voted on at Fifa’s special congress in Zurich before the presidential charade, may contain provisions to include more women, but they aren’t that far-reaching. So unless she has been election favourite Sheikh Salman in a wig, fake-smile mask and a dress all these years, she’s got no chance.

The pertinent question about The Tokyo Sex Whale’s vote isn’t “how many?” but “are there any?” It is not difficult to envisage a Norwegian Eurovision Song Contest size of support. Every time I’ve seen his name this week, the voices inside my head have cried “nul points.” And that, to give it context, would be 17 below the vote against Sepp Blatter in 2011, when Blatter was the only name on the ballot paper. Still, when you invite Fifa rivals to inspect a prison just days before the vote, is it any wonder so many people think you are simply taking the piss?

Both the Sex Whale and Frenchman Jerome Champagne failed even to obtain the backing of their own federations, let alone their confederations, all of whom publicly backed a candidate in this “secret” ballot. Champagne even had a public row, in a Paris restaurant, on the issue with French Federation president Noel Le Graet on January 28th. The row reportedly ended when Le Graet “stood up, hurled a series of expletives at (Champagne) and stormed out of the bistro.” How wonderfully ‘French’ was that?

Champagne made the less-extensively-reported attempts to delay the vote this week. While Jordan’s Prince Ali was appealing for see-through polling booths (and importing his own to Zurich, in case the world turned on its axis and Fifa was forced to be more transparent than it wished), Champagne was moaning about the number of election “observers” being allowed on-site. He complained to Fifa’s Ad-Hoc Electoral Committee at the issuing of observer credentials to 20 Uefa and 7 Asian Confederation (AFC) representatives, claiming to know that the list of observers’ names “reveals the presence of most of the campaign teams” of Uefa-endorsed Gianni Infantino and AFC-endorsed Sheikh Salman.
The Electoral Committee, not for the first time, retreated into full Fifa-mode, saying “the question of accreditation is in the hands of Fifa.” As Fifa reform/dissolution campaign group NewFifaNow tweeted, with its customary cynicism: “No win for Ali on booths, or for Champagne on observers. But guess who gets their way?!”

Despite Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein’s transparent-booth defeat, he will receive a credible vote. But he only received 73 last May, with formal backing from Uefa. So he won’t win for himself. Instead, he, or more precisely the destination of “his” votes after his elimination, could be a “kingmaker,” (not a job entirely unsuited to a prince, of course). And given Ali’s public hostility to Salman, Gianni Infantino would be the likelier beneficiary. However, Fifa elections, in as much as they work at all, don’t work like that. As Bloomberg.net sports journalist Tariq Panja tweeted: “Huge disconnect between Fifa voters and public debate. A lot of what’s written and you think will have no bearing on vote” (which isn’t an excuse to stop reading…oi…come back…).

Infantino’s vote-gathering has largely been on the basis of financial promises (how reformist, eh?), including increased handouts to national associations and increased revenues from a 40-team World Cup. The latter proposal was dismissed by Champagne, who has direct experience on such matters, as unworkable.” And genius Australia-based Guardian newspaper cartoonist David Squires “quoted” FA chairman Greg Dyke supporting Infantino thus: “His pledge to ruin their showpiece cup competition really speaks to us.”
But money, or the promise thereof, speaks louder even than people rowing in Parisien bistros. Quite how loudly it speaks will determine Infantino’s electoral chances. Though, unlike the Sex Whale, Champagne and the Prince, he at least has some.

Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa remains the Bahraini royal to beat, though (if you’ll excuse using the phrase “to beat” in the context of an alleged facilitator of torture and disregarder of human rights). He has protested that Infantino’s plans would bankrupt Fifa. And as a member of Fifa’s financial committee, he ought to be among the best-placed to make such a judgment. Some would argue, though, that, as a member of Fifa’s finance committee, he ought to have been among the best placed to ensure that Fifa wasn’t about to run a $580m deficit over the next four years. And that Fifa’s cash “reserves” of $1.523 BILLION should allow national associations to benefit as Infantino suggests, without threatening bankruptcy “in three years,” as Salman retorted.

Salman also suggested that “it’s not up to the elected president to make such a risky decision.” “What kind of democracy and what kind of organisation should be run by one man?” asked the member of Bahrain’s royal family, showing a self-awareness of which Blatter would have been proud. Salman’s vote-buying wealth distribution (no, as you were, vote-buying) took on more subtle forms. Fractionally. The January “memorandum of understanding that if you back me in the election you will hugely benefit from my presidency” between Salman’s AFC and the African Confederation (CAF) will have cornered a triumphant volume of support.

Between them they have 103 of Fifa’s 209 nations and with Indonesia and Kuwait unable to vote (long stories, natch), they represent one short of any winner’s target figure, making Salman’s victory inevitable if it succeeds to any large degree. Yet continental confederation-recommended votes have kept interest in the election alive until the end. These recommendations cannot of course be binding in any way in a secret ballot. And not even Fifa quite works like that. Yet public, and changeable, declarations of intended support have abounded. Infantino’s claim to have unanimous South American support has gone publicly unchallenged. Last weekend, 13 European nations, approximately a quarter of Uefa, pledged support for him at a Serbian FA-organised convention in Belgrade; Balkan nations, largely, and…er…Cyprus. England and Scotland publicly declared for him too.

Asia would be in the bag if Prince Ali wasn’t standing. And Africa has been fun and frolics. At various stages, one, none or 26 African associations were dissenting from CAF’s backing of Salman. Liberia’s Musa Bility, probably still bitter after his own candidacy fell foul even of Fifa’s integrity checks, was inevitably among the first, most outspoken dissenters. Less entertainingly, Fifa and nationhood newbies South Sudan declared for Infantino on February 6th before backtracking five days later and supporting Salman. The South Sudan FA (SSFA) claimed that a “clarification” of their declaration “had become necessary” because they had not received “an official communication on the decision of the CAF Executive Committee before making public their choice.” No “clarification” was necessary. It was a blatant, seemingly pressurized, change of decision, with SSFA president Chabur Goc Alei claiming the SSFA were “committed to follow the decision of CAF Executive Committee to back Sheikh Salman” and apologizing “to all member associations of CAF and our candidate for the FIFA presidency.” Humiliating and hardly democratic.

Anyway, tomorrow promises to be genuinely worth watching. Not the election itself, you understand. This week I discovered YouTub footage of the actual voting at a previous election. Yes, a camera trained at the voting booths (non-transparent) as delegates walk up to cast their vote. Three hours of that and…er…that’s it. It should be filed alongside “Transfer Deadline Day” in terms of actual live “action.” Yet ESPN3 in the United States will be providing live coverage in what is the very early hours of the morning, with two presenters and six (SIX!) pundits. Beyond satire.

No. Social media is where it’s at, as I believe the young thrusters say these days. The twitter timelines of the better journalists covering Fifa shenanigans have become more, and more entertainingly, cynical as the campaign has progressed/regressed. Definitely worth following will be Panja, James Corbett, Richard Conway, Paul Kelso, Ben Rumsby, Piers Edwards and Rob Harris, with apologies to anyone who should be on this list but isn’t. The changeFIFA and newfifanow timelines will provide a collection of the better tweets worldwide, although only as fast as they can re-tweet stuff. Look elsewhere for up-to-the-second stuff.

So. Who will win? I’m not going to stick my proverbial neck out and bet against Salman. He has bought, coerced, earned enough votes across the confederations with the effectiveness displayed for years by the men he, lest we forget, backed to be Fifa president at various stages of 2015. Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. One can only hope that Salman continues to be a Blatter clone if elected… and lays down his mandate after four days, having succumbed to unspecified, mysterious pressures over the weekend.

Or that Adele can somehow make a late charge. Because she surely could not be worse than whoever will win.

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