Over the last week or so much has been written and broadcast about FIFA’s presidential elections. Boringly written, these do a poor job of explaining issues for the casual reader. That’s why I am here to clarify.
What is FIFA?
Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, is the governing body of world football, AKA soccer. FIFA is responsible for almost everything behind the beautiful game, including the World Cup. I will use this as my primary example in order to keep things simple.
Why is FIFA holding elections?
FIFA holds presidential elections every four years in the year immediately following the FIFA World Cup. However, because it’s obviously 2016, elections were held last year. However, this year there will be another election because outgoing president Sepp Blatter announced his resignation last June.
Sepp Blatter has been the President of FIFA for the last 18 years. Blatter has been highly controversial because of allegations of corruption inside of football’s governing body. And it gets pretty bad. Most damaging have been reports of high-ranking officials taking large bribes in exchange for their votes on future World Cup hosts (e.g. Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022). Blatter received scathing and widespread criticism from many national federations, yet somehow has won recent elections with relative ease.
How did Sepp Blatter keep getting elected?
Once you understand how a president is chosen, you’ll quickly be able to figure out why it was so easy for Blatter to be elected and reelected several times over. FIFA has 209 member associations. Each of these get one vote in the presidential elections.
The FIFA World Cup is the single most profitable sporting event in the world, in which 32 nations compete to win the ultimate prize. Despite the fact that only 32 countries compete in the World Cup, profits from this grand tournament are divided evenly among the 209 member associations. This means that The English Football Association gets as much money from the tournament as The Cook Islands Football Association, who you likely will need to Google, despite the fact that The Cook Islands have never competed in the World Cup. But it is this policy of evenly dividing revenue that sealed Blatters win. The small associations gave him the votes he needed to stay in power.
With Mr. Blatter finally out the door, his former position was up for grabs today at The 2016 FIFA Extraordinary Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. At the beginning of the day five men were in contention to take over one of the most powerful jobs in the world.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein. Prince Ali of Jordan based his campaign largely on the promise of transparency. Over the last four years Ali has been the Vice president of FIFA representing Asia. He was Blatter’s biggest competition in last year’s election.
Jerome Champagne. A Frenchman, Champagne had backing from several legends of the game, including Brazilian great Pelé. Unfortunately he had a dark cloud lingering over his résumé. Champagne had spent the last 11 years working for Sepp Blatter.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Sheikh Salman, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, has served as President of the Asian Football Confederation for several years. He comes with valuable ideas including measures to combat time wasting in matches. But he has problems, too, including accusations that he suppresses anti-government ideas in Bahrain and that he uses the AFC to launder money.
Tokyo Sexwale. Clearly, Sexwale has the absolute coolest name on the ballot. The South African has dedicated a large portion of his career to ending racism in football. But Sexwale had a long time association with Sepp Blatter, too. Eventually he removed his name from contention prior to the first ballots being cast.
Gianni Infantino. Infantino, with both Swiss and Italian citizenship, joined UEFA in 2000 and worked his way up to the position of UEFA General Secretary. Like Prince Ali, his campaign was largely based on promises of transparency.
Today 207 votes were cast to decide the next President of FIFA (Kuwait and Indonesia are suspended and did not vote). During the first round of voting a candidate needed to receive a two-thirds majority of votes (138) in order to become the next president. After the first round Infantino (88) was ahead of Sheikh Salman (85), Prince Ali (27), and Champagne (7).
The election then went to a second round where only a simple majority (104) was needed to determine a winner. Here, a large portion of Prince Ali’s votes went to his like-minded competitor, Gianni Infantino, which was enough to send him over the top. Finally after months of debate and controversy FIFA has a new face, Gianni Infantino. Football fans around the world are hopeful that today’s election will be seen as a changing of eras. Hopefully, we can enjoy a grand renewal of the game we love as it transitions from an old, corrupt governing body to the new, transparent, and responsive FIFA. Let’s salute and cheer a brighter future for our game.