POSTED: February 4th 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: Battle to become FIFA President heats up as Sepp Blatter goes for a fifth term

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Sepp Blatter may be the overwhelming favourite to enjoy a fifth term as President of FIFA but at least his opponents in the election are not going down without a fight. The Swiss lawyer, 78, a long-time member of the International Olympic Committee, has led the world's most popular sport through an era where FIFA has become a by-word for corruption.

The deadline for candidates has now passed and ranged against Blatter are: Prince Ali, President of the Jordanian Football Association and a member of FIFA's executive committee, Michael van Praag, the President of the Dutch Football Association, and Luis Figo, of Portugal, one of the most entertainingly skilful footballers of the last 20 years. All of them have received backing from at least five national associations.

Two potential rivals have withdrawn. Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA official, failed to get the necessary support while a fellow Frenchman, David Ginola, pulled out last week after what was widely perceived as a publicity stunt anyway.

Prince Ali began his campaign by visiting London this week and at a news conference denounced the current regime at FIFA by declaring: "There is a culture of intimidation within FIFA but this is a candidacy for the whole world. In the past, people have taken a principled stand and have been punished for it. I hope that if things are played fairly, things will go in the appropriate way. I have to reassure our national associations that I will be the right candidate for them." He has been backed by six associations, including the English Football Association, whose opposition to Blatter is unremitting. The others were: the United States, Jordan, Belarus, Malta and Georgia.

Prince Ali proposed a public debate between the candidates, although Blatter knows that he is unlikely to benefit from such a discussion before the vote in Zurich on May 29. Prince Ali said:"I don't think anybody should be written off. Globally there is a desire for change and I look forward to that challenge."

He was not put off by the presence of other candidates and is seeking to meet them, saying that the fact there is more than one candidate is emblematic of the desire for reform. Most of the opposition to Blatter, who was originally elected in 1998 and who had previously said he would not be seeking a fourth term, comes from Europe, although Michel Platini, the president of Uefa, the European governing body, is not standing himself.

Many observers believe that the former French star midfielder knows that Blatter is impregnable this time and therefore is biding his time for another four years, thinking that if he challenged Blatter this year, he would antagonise Blatter's supporters who will remember the slight when he eventually decides to stand.

Prince Ali has not been supported by the Asian Football Confederation, his own constituency, which is one of the five of the six confederations, who last summer before the World Cup in Brazil announced that they would be backing Blatter. However, Prince Ali said: "What happened in Brazil was before there were other candidates. It's a matter of discussing with other member associations and sponsors, who are disappointed with the way that things are done."

The sponsors are the only evident weak point for Blatter, who enjoys widespread support in Asia and Africa, continuing as President. Many of them are known to be unhappy with how the sport is being run but their attitude is one of pragmatism, believing that they are sponsoring football rather than FIFA itself. The fact that the administration of the game has been so lamentable is almost incidental to their ambitions. That is one of the saddest features of the situation.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · FIFA · Football · Sepp Blatter

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