Everything you need to know about the FIFA presidential candidates

According to the latest update from FIFA’s halls of injustice, soccer’s world governing body will elect its next president on February 26, 2016.

Save the date.

Of course lots can change between now and February, especially when you consider how much has changed since current FIFA president Sepp Blatter won a fifth term back in May. Since then, Blatter announced that he would resign, then waffled, and then was suspended by FIFA. UEFA president Michel Platini, the long-time front-runner to replace Blatter, was essentially a president-in-waiting, until he was also suspended by FIFA. There were other developments, but to outline all of them here would run about as long as a Stieg Larsson trilogy. Things done changed. You get the point.

However, one thing that remained unchanged was the October 26 deadline for presidential candidates to submit the required paperwork to FIFA. The paperwork included a written letter to FIFA announcing one’s candidacy, and at least five declaration letters of support from national federations.

That deadline has now passed. So assuming no one gets banned between now and February 26 and FIFA still exists—none of which is a given—your next FIFA president will most likely be one of these men.

Michel Platini (France)

UEFA President Michel Platini arrives at a press conference after the soccer Europa League draw ceremony at the Grimaldi Forum, in Monaco, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)Claude Paris/AP

TL;DR: Apparently you don’t watch horror movies. The monster is never really dead.

Who: Michel François Platini used to be a world-class soccer player. It’s hard to imagine that today since his body is no longer a finely tuned French machine, tooled to break down even the most stout defenses, but rather a fine-tuned machine focused on soccer administrating and keeping secrets.

Since those glory days, Platini has been living that administrative life, most notably, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s special advisor, president of UEFA, and a member of FIFA’s executive committee.

Qualifications: There’s little doubt that Platini was sufficiently qualified to run the organization formerly known as FIFA—the one that’s currently being dismantled at a slow-to-medium pace. Of the seven regional federations, UEFA has historically been both the wealthiest and most influential.

Make no mistake, someone who has lead UEFA for eight years, as its administrative leader and figurehead, is equipped to handle FIFA’s secretive boys club. The biggest question, however, is whether Platini is qualified to run a transparent, reformed FIFA, if one, hypothetically, were to exist.

Obstacles: Earlier this month, FIFA suspended Platini from “all football-related activity” for 90 days. The suspension is a result of a verbal agreement between Blatter and Platini—or as Platini called it, “a thing between two men”—from which FIFA paid Platini around $2 million in 2011, for work he allegedly performed as an advisor to Blatter between 1998 and 2002. This payment, reportedly, never made an appearance on any FIFA or UEFA books.

That’s not a great look, yet Platini still wants to be FIFA president. He’s aware that the 90-day suspension runs out just before the February election. So technically there’s still a chance, if FIFA doesn’t extend his ban after further investigations are completed. He also has to pass the mandatory integrity check which is administered to all candidates. For what it’s worth, Blatter passed the integrity check in February for the May 2015 election.

But even if Platini is cleared to run, he’ll have to repair his credibility after having his name dragged through the mud. Good luck with that. But still, you can’t rule him out because soccer administrators seem to have between 15 and 30 lives.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

One Blatter

David Nakhid (Trinidad & Tobago)

Former Trinidad and Tobago midfielder David Nakhid, who last week submitted his candidacy to FIFA to stand in February's emergency presidential election, attends a training session for children, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)Bilal Hussein/AP

TL;DR: How many people, exactly, need to go to jail before this man can run unopposed?

Who: Who? Exactly. You may vaguely remember Nakhid from his day(s) with the New England Revolution in Major League Soccer. But you probably don’t. Anyone who tells you that they know who he is probably lying, and you should walk away immediately.

You probably are unfamiliar with Nakhid because he isn’t close to being part of the fancy soccer administrator scene. He played at American University in Washington, D.C. (Friendship Heights, to be precise). He got some caps for the Trinidad & Tobago national team. But otherwise, you haven’t heard of this man. Maybe that’s his appeal.

Then again, the FIFA election isn’t some general election where “the people” select representatives; it’s a game to convince long-time soccer administrators to trust you. And most of them will also probably say, “Wait, who are you?” to Nakhid unless he has “magical powers.”

Qualifications: Most people don’t have time for strangers. But there are exceptions. One of them is when someone appears to be a very good person. Coincidentally, Nakhid spends his time running a grassroots program for Lebanese children. It’s a beautiful thing. FIFA spends a lot of time talking about growing the game and using the game to diffuse conflicts, and here’s a candidate, whose boots have been firmly on the ground, working with the children. He’s bottom-up.

Obstacles: Nakhid’s biggest obstacle is probably other soccer administrators—specifically, convincing them that despite telling the world that he’s not like them, they can trust him. If he can’t make that case, there’s no reason why entrenched national federations would decide to vote for a random new guy.

One thing to always remember is that the people voting for FIFA president aren’t the Executive Committee members who’ve been carted away into jails and before ethics committees. The people who voted for Blatter five times are the national federations. And unless most of those people are arrested, I’m not sure how likely a new guy is going to convince anyone of anything, unless he’s bringing some really persuasive heat to the table.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

One Blatter

Prince Ali bin al-Hussein (Jordan)

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - MAY 29: Jordanian Prince Ali bin al Hussein, FIFA vice president and Challenger to Joseph S. Blatter for the FIFA presidency, gives a speech during the 65th FIFA Congress at Hallenstadion on May 29, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

TL;DR: You think a bunch of crusty, old men will agree to be ruled by a 39-year-old royal?

Who: Most people learned about Prince Ali in May of 2015, when he stood as the only candidate to rival “President for Life” Blatter in the last FIFA presidential election. But at that point, Prince Ali was already a FIFA vice president representing the Asian Football Confederation. He beat his predecessor South Korean Chung Moon-joon in 2011 at the AFC Congress, ending the recently banned Chung’s 17 years of service on FIFA’s executive committee.

He’s also fancy. Prince Ali isn’t a Prince like Minnesota’s own Prince Rodger Nelson, nor is he related to Kevin-Prince Boateng. He is actual royalty—as in the son of Jordan’s deceased King Hussein, and brother of current Jordanian ruler, King Abdullah II. Odds are decent that he was not born into poverty.

According to Wikipedia, the 39-year-old royal has received medals of honor from France, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, and Spain, by royal, imperial, or presidential decree.

Qualifications: Even though Prince Ali was a last minute Hail Mary to try to replace Blatter, he’s the one candidate to have actually stood for FIFA president. That’s impressive, perhaps. But it really isn’t. (See obstacles.)

Also, generally, Prince Ali has an impressive resume, but it might actually be mediocre for a royal.

Obstacles: Prince Ali’s attempt to unseat Blatter was backed by many of the Western federations that couldn’t wait to see the back of Blatter. After Blatter resigned, many of the same federations almost immediately threw their votes behind Platini, and then the Frenchman was suspended for ethical violations. There’s no real evidence that any of the federations that initially backed Prince Ali actually believed in his candidacy. They likely were just convinced and impressed that he wasn’t Blatter, since they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a willing, viable candidate with enough hutzpah to muster a challenge.

Another obstacle: Sheikh Salman taking his Asia votes.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

Two Blatters

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa (Bahrain)

Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa speaks to journalists at the AFC Congress in Manama, Bahrain, Thursday, April 30, 2015. Sheikh Salman, who stood unopposed, was re-elected by acclamation for a four-year term until 2019. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)Hasan Jamali/AP

TL:DR: Watch out, unless human rights questions come and bite him in the ass.

Who: Sheikh Salman is a powerful man in the world of soccer. He’s the president of the Asian Football Confederation, elected in 2013. In FIFA presidential voting terms, that means 47 votes fall under his domain. Before that, the Sheikh was the head of the Bahrain Football Federation. Before that, he ran Bahrain’s national team, at the age of 30—as one does when you have the experience of playing soccer as a kid and being filthy rich. Basically, the man has pedigree.

Speaking of that pedigree, Sheikh Salman is a member of the Bahraini royal family. His father, Bahraini Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa—who was appointed in 1970 by his brother, Bahrain’s first emir—is the longest-serving Prime Minister in the world. Conveniently, Sheikh Salman’s first cousin is the current King of Bahrain.

Qualifications: Many have called Sheikh Salman the most powerful man in Asian sport. Not just Asian soccer, Asian sport. That’s impressive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s qualified to run FIFA. He only has two years of experience as AFC president. But he also served on multiple FIFA committees (including World Cup committees), and over time has become hip to the ways of mothership, so the two years running Asian soccer may not accurately encapsulate his full administrative experience. Could Sheikh Salman be the man to lead FIFA out of the darkness and into the light of reform? Well, see the obstacles section.

Obstacles: If human rights and integrity are of any importance, Bahrain has a deplorable human rights record. Sheikh Salman reportedly headed a committee that “targeted athletes in Bahrain protests.” The Bahrain Institute for Human Rights has called for FIFA to reject his candidacy, citing, among other things, Sheikh Salman’s role identifying athletes for Bahrain’s security forces, who used the information to “arrest, detain, and publicly defame all who were named, of which many credibly allege that they were tortured during detention.” Human Rights Watch is similarly not impressed with Salman’s human rights record. Whether any of this matters when it comes to a FIFA election is anyone’s guess. Procedurally, noting FIFA’s history of looking past human rights violations, it shouldn’t be a huge obstacle.

Here’s a fun fact: Back in 2009, Sheikh Salman also made these declarations:

“What we want is for everyone, all associations, to have their say and to express their opinions with absolute freedom..

“We want to promote equality among member associations, transparency within the AFC organization, with an emphasis on transparency in reporting AFC finances, and promoting unity for the development of Asian football.”

If only those principles applied to Bahrain, where he has a significant amount of power yet they seem to be stock-piling human rights abuses.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

Two Blatters

Gianni Infantino

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino and host Melanie Winiger speak during the UEFA EURO 2020 Host Cities & Final announcement ceremony held at Espace Hippomene on September 19, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images for UEFA)Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

TL;DR: A recognizable bald man with strong backing within FIFA always has a shot.

Who: You probably recognize Infantino as the hairless, multilingual man from UEFA draws. But he’s more than just a pretty dome. The Swiss attorney, as UEFA Secretary General is (was?—Platini is suspended) Platini’s no. 2. He knows the business of soccer intimately; in fact, he’s lived it. Infantino joined UEFA in 2000, and in addition to being Secretary General, has also headed UEFA’s Legal Affairs and Club Licensing Division and was the body’s interim CEO.

Qualifications: He knows everything about the business.

Obstacles: Platini by association. If Platini is tainted, expect people to dig into Infantino’s past with a fine comb. Federations with little interest in seeing another European at the helm will be particularly eager to tie Infantino to the old regime.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

Three Blatters

Tokyo Sexwale

Chairman of the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine, Tokyo Sexwale  speaks to the media during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Sexwale, who was an anti-apartheid campaigner and former political prisoner on Robben Island, is still deliberating over whether to stand in the FIFA presidential election. “There is a still a deadline ... but we still have some days and I am sure that in the right time I will make an announcement,” Sexwale said in the conference Friday where he headed a meeting on Israeli-Palestinian football relations.  (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)Dan Balilty/AP

TL;DR: If you don’t know the song “Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players, Google it and listen. And when you get the tune, change the words “Rollercoaster” to “Tok-yo Sex-whale … ooo oooooooh; Tok-yo Sex-whale.” That’s why he’d be a favorite, even though “Sex-whale” isn’t how you pronounce his name, it’s actually “Sek-wah-lay”.

Qualifications: Character and administrative experience.

Being a political prisoner on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, for 13 years during apartheid may not be the type of qualification most people would think of when thinking about qualifications for the president of world soccer. But surely that stint, mentally and physically, was far more punishing than anything he’d have to face as FIFA president. Unless, of course, he had to attend FIFA meetings; then it would be close.

Shortly after his release from Robben Island , Sexwale, went on to become the first Premier of Gauteng, the province where you can find Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, and Pretoria, the capital. He dabbled in the mineral business and emerged a (Rand) billionaire, so he now has money in common with a few of the other presidential candidates. Sexwale was also a member of the organizing committee for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

What else. Ah, remember when the world blasted Blatter for saying that black players who get racially abused on the field should just settle things with a handshake after the game? FIFA released a Blatter statement shortly thereafter using a picture of Blatter with Sexwale.

Sepp Blatter used Sexwale as his black friend, and Sexwale didn’t even literally throw Blatter under a bus.

Obstacles: Voters who want a Western-dominated FIFA.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

Three Blatters

Musa Bility

TL;DR: Only worth discussing if he can convince Africa (the country, of course) to join him. Do not bet on this.

Qualifications: Bility is not Sepp Blatter. So he has that going for him. As the head of the Liberian FA, he’s been responsible for a country that produced the great George Weah, although he had nothing to do with that. Otherwise, running a federation—even though it isn’t a massive one—is something.

Obstacles: African votes. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) already politely declined to back Bility when he announced his interest in running. Also, CAF banned Bility in 2013 for six months because he “violated statutes relating to the use of confidential documents.” Whatever that means.

One would expect the bulk of Africa’s votes to go to Sexwale, but where soccer administrators are involved, who knows.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

One Blatter

Jérôme Champagne

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 29: FIFA Director of International Relations, Jerome Champagne speaks during the FIFPro Asia divisional meeting held at The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Darling Harbour on May 28, 2008 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)Mark Nolan/Getty Images

TL;DR: No one liked him a year ago. So what’s changed?

Qualifications: You may remember Champagne from previous shows such as FIFA’s former deputy secretary general. He’s no longer with FIFA, but he knows FIFA, and has long been on record about changes that need to happen within the organization. He’s also a European who’s keen on diminishing Europe’s power. For instance, he’s into the idea of limiting European World Cup places and Europe’s general influence in the game. That plays well to much of the rest of the world.

Obstacles: Europe. Champagne is into the idea of limiting Europe, which is an idea that Europeans with voting power generally hate.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

One Blatter

Sepp Blatter (Switzerland)

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speak during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

TL;DR: Wait. Hear me out.

Qualifications: No one has done it longer. Arguably, no one has done it better. Was Blatter an ego-maniac? Quite possibly, but what person who runs for president of anything—even a middle school—isn’t? And anyone who does it five times in a row? By that point, any one of us is selling babies for votes on a street corner.

Still, there’s something immensely impressive about a penguin-looking man, who most white people seem to detest, running world soccer for decades. People have been alleging under-handed tactics, but it isn’t as if he, alone, was in charge of seedy behavior. Others were behaving like devils. People couldn’t figure out how to out-devious the old penguin. That had to be infuriating. For a moment, allow yourself to be impressed and to admit that he is absolutely qualified to run FIFA.

Obstacles: Self-delusion and prison are a few things that spring to mind.

Also, like Platini, Blatter is in the midst of a 90-day ban from “all football-related activity” for participating in that $2 million “thing between two men.” “All football-related activity” includes being FIFA president.

But just think of how many times Blatter has been counted out before. People celebrated in May after they learned someone (Prince Ali) would be challenging him, and that powerful nations were backing this new person. The other guy lost. Then people really celebrated when Blatter announced that he was resigning. But months passed, and there he was, running things. In between Blatter’s announcement of his intention to resign and his suspension, so many of those who’ve needed to see him carried out on a stretcher have fallen.

Basically, you can’t be surprised if the man crawls out of the grave and is somehow sitting in the chair when it swivels around in February. Crazier things have happened and, generally, they all seem to involve Blatter.

Chances of survival (out of five Blatter faces):

Four Blatter

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