A list of candidates which reads like a register of comic book super villains, accusations of a candidate being complicit in the torture of footballers in their country, suggestions that everyone but the favourite should drop out to ‘avoid potential embarrassment’. It can only be the FIFA presidential election.
Sepp Blatter’s upcoming departure amidst many allegations of serious corruption promised an opportunity for change for FIFA, a potential ‘new dawn’ of accountability, transparency and rebuilding of trust between the organisation and the public.
Are any of the candidates capable of delivering the change overwhelmingly demanded by the public? Or should everyone just expect ‘more of the same’. With the election due to take place on February 26, we take a look at the three leading candidates.
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Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa
Starting with the bookmakers favourite, though it is quite hard to imagine how the man accused of being complicit in the detention and torture of footballers by Bahraini human rights groups could possibly be the front-runner to become the next president of the world’s primary football organisation.
Salman has addressed the accusations, calling them ‘nasty lies’, though for many of the public the accusation alone is enough to suggest he is not the right man for the job.
He has also suggested that the federations should agree on a single candidate for the ballot, stating ‘If we go to election there will be losers and maybe sometimes you need to avoid that result,’ essentially suggesting that come election time his name should be the only one on the paper.
FIFA presidential elections have been ridiculed in the past for exactly these situations, as it has been the case in the past where only Sepp Blatter’s name has been on the ballot paper. Can a man accused of allowing torture and who seems to desire a return to the old ways - having single option ballot papers in sham elections - possibly be the man who restores trust in FIFA? Unlikely.
A familiar face to many fans of European football, Infantino has been the General Secretary of UEFA since 2009, and most recognisably is the charismatic host of the draw for the UEFA’s continental club competitions, the Europa League and the Champions League.
Infantino was declared as a candidate following Michele Platini’s eight-year ban from all football-related activity. He has received the backing of many notable organisations and individuals in football, including former Manchester United Chief Executive David Gill and the FA.
Infantino is a relatively popular public figure, and holds a degree in Law, this, along with his years of experience at the top of one of the few respected international football organisations and a lack of controversy or scandal hidden in the wardrobe, arguably make Infantino the ideal candidate to take over at FIFA.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein
Prince Ali is the third son of the former Jordanian King Hussein and brother to the reigning King of Jordan, Abdullah II. He is likely to be best known amongst football fans as a currently serving FIFA vice-president.
He stood against Sepp Blatter in 2015 for the presidency and was unsuccessful, dropping out in the second round of voting.
Prince Ali is a respected figure and was amongst a number of FIFA officials who called for the publication of the Garcia Report into allegations of corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.
As a candidate he stands for ideals and change in FIFA, and seeks to raise the profile of Asian countries. Prince Ali seems to only have an outside chance of success in the election, but appears to be a relatively upstanding character. Despite this, one could argue his close proximity to FIFA during the era of corruption makes him an unsuitable candidate.
In summary, the current favourite, Sheikh Salman appears to be a highly inappropriate choice as a FIFA President and it is imperative to the integrity of the organisation that he does not win on the 26th.
Gianni Infantino is the standout candidate, a popular individual and the most qualified to do the job. For the sake of football's future, it must be hoped that the voters see sense, and back Infantino.