UEFA president Michel Platini and European soccer’s governing body have been looking for a crack in FIFA’s armor. After this morning’s news out of Zurich, they might have finally found it. According to reports, including those by the Associated Press, UEFA is pushing to postpone Friday’s presidential election.
Any delay will likely hurt president Sepp Blatter’s hope of retaining his office.
Blatter is running for a fourth term as FIFA’s chief executive, a candidacy UEFA has tacitly opposed. Platini and the organization formerly helped prop up two potential candidates to run against Blatter. After they dropped out, UEFA is said to have put its weight behind Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, the last remaining challenger to Blatter. Though Blatter is from Switzerland, his power lies in contingencies beyond Europe, with Platini and UEFA hopeful the coming elections can help end the current president’s 17-year run.
Before last night’s raid on a Zurich hotel, one resulting from the Department of Justice’s indictment of 15 people linked with various levels of corruption, Blatter’s reelection was considered all but assured. In light of the indictments, however, Europe is calling for a delay to Friday’s election. It has threatened to boycott the impending FIFA congress if the meeting and presidential election go on as planned.
From the Associated Press:
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino says the corruption investigations into FIFA “tarnish the image of football as a whole” and said European football associations will debate on Thursday whether to boycott the Zurich congress.
Infantino says the executive committee of European soccer’s ruling body, which met Wednesday, wants “a change to the leadership” of FIFA, with the congress to be postponed and new elections held within six months.
Earlier today, FIFA maintained that the election was slated to go on as scheduled. If he wins the vote of the organization’s 209-member body, Blatter will assume a fifth term at FIFA’s helm, an appointment that would run through 2019, when he will be 83 years old.
Given that Blatter appeared to be headed for reelection, any voting delay can only help the opposition, which will now have time to consolidate support from those willing to sever ties with the current president. It will also provide time for external pressures to have an effect, and given entities like the U.S. Department of Justice are newly willing to get involved, those pressures have to be considered more seriously than ever.
It also gives Blatter’s opponent, Prince Ali, a chance to leverage the new spotlight. One of the major flaws of the anti-Blatter movement has been the lack of a single voice to rally behind. To this point, a challenger field was fractured between Ali, Michael van Praag and Luis Figo. But if Ali speaks out quickly and fiercely in the light of this scandal, he can become a solidifying force — a single face made viable to newly critical eyes.
Ali has already tried to get his message out, but amid the deluge of reports about FIFA’s crisis, his words have gone largely ignored. From reporting by Reuters:
“We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today,” the Jordanian said.
“FIFA needs leadership that governs guides and protects our national associations. Leadership that accepts responsibility for its actions and does not pass blame.
“Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world.”
FIFA, typically impervious to outside criticism, has moved quickly, issuing a morning statement of support for the investigations and suspending 11 executives from all soccer-related activity as of this afternoon. But the organization has also said its congress will continue, its elections will go on, giving Prince Ali less than two days before the campaign’s final whistle.
If UEFA has its way, though, the contest will go into extra time, giving its favorite candidate time to seize the spotlight on an organization he wants to run.