If anyone legitimately believed that the departure of Sepp Blatter signalled the start of a new era of good governance at FIFA, we have some bad news for you.
After conducting what passes for due diligence in Zurich, FIFA confirmed the official slate of candidates for their presidential election in one month.
The candidates are: Jerome Champagne, Gianni Infantino, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, and Tokyo Sexwale.
Of those five, three were scheduled to appear in a debate at the European Parliament in Brussels this week. Yet less than 48 hours before the debate, two of the candidates, Prince Ali and Tokyo Sexwale, pulled out. That left Champagne as the only participant, officially making the entire affair a farce.
Why this happened is still unclear. Prince Ali’s camp sent out a press release expressing concerns about a “breach of the electoral rules” in announcing his decision to pull out. (Sexwale followed suit once he heard.) One of the organizers of the debate, NewFifaNow, said that Ali believed one of the two candidates who declined from the outset made a complaint based on political interference. FIFA’s ad-hoc election committee said no such complaint was made and that the debate would not violate any rules.
ESPN have scuttled their plans to air the debate live. They will stream the “debate” in its current form online, which at press time appears to be a speech from Champagne and some taped remarks from Infantino.
It’s not hard to read between the lines here. Public debates among candidates standing for election offer an opportunity for voters and stakeholders to hear what those gunning for elected office would do should they be granted power. They provide a degree of transparency and accountability in what is ostensibly a democratic institution. All things which FIFA, institutionally and among the people who frequently find themselves in positions of power, seem deathly allergic to. Sepp Blatter may be gone, but the developing charade surrounding the election shows that changing the culture in football’s world governing body will require more than replacing one or two high-ranking officials.
The election is scheduled to be held one month from today on February 26th.