Monday, January 19, 2015

Why Sepp Blatter Will Win the Upcoming Election

Sepp Blatter will win the upcoming FIFA Presidential election at a canter, and here's why.

There are three phases to the election. First comes the nomination. Then comes the campaigning. Finally comes the actual election.

The first part is actually the most difficult for challengers. To be nominated, a candidate must meet the criteria (being involved in football as an administrator, player, coach or referee for at least two of the last five years) and also find five national associations willing to nominate the candidate.

This is much harder to achieve than you might think it would be, given that there are currently 209 national associations.

The biggest problem is that Sepp Blatter is a huge favourite to win, and therefore to be publicly seen to be supporting an opponent is incredibly risky. What country wants to take the chance of backing the probable loser? The winner will have four years to show his displeasure through all kinds of retaliatory measures, such as not giving the members of the nominating association lucrative appointments on various FIFA committees, not giving them lavish trips (which include five star hotels and US$500 per diems for every day of the trip) and not awarding GOAL Programme projects to that country. What sort of irresponsible leader of a national association would take that risk?

Four years ago the two-year involvement in football criterion didn't exist and only one nominating country was required, and as US soccer journalist Grant Wahl learned in his aborted run for President, it was still impossible to find someone to nominate him. Indeed he was told it would be much easier for member countries to vote for him in the election than nominate him, because the election is a secret ballot.

It is therefore quite noteworthy that FIFA enacted new rules for the 2015 election to make it even harder to be nominated. Presumably Sepp Blatter was concerned that his leadership would be so bad that a renegade association (such as England) might have the temerity to nominate another candidate. But five renegade nations? No chance, no matter how bad Blatter has been and how good the other candidates may be!

Let's imagine that someone else actually manages to get themselves nominated. They will have three and a bit months to campaign before the election.

But why bother? The CAF, AFC and OFC nations have already decided that they will vote for Sepp Blatter. Even without the votes of members from CONCACAF, CONMEBOL and UEFA, this gives him well over the 105 votes he needs to be re-elected.

It may seem strange that every national association in each Confederation has agreed to vote the same way. Why would what's good for Angola be good for the Seychelles? Or what's good for Iran be good for Timor-Leste? Or what's good for New Zealand be good for Tonga?

Well there's a reason for that too. No-one wants to be a renegade within their own Confederation either, for pretty much the same financial, prestige, power and project reasons I listed above.

In addition, is it not strange that these countries have already decided whom they will vote for before the field has even been finalized? To you or me,maybe, but the earlier they support the Dear Leader the better for them.

Thirdly, they all actually have reasons for supporting Blatter. With recent Wold Cup Finals tournaments being so profitable thanks to media rights and sposnsorship, FIFA has had a lot of money to give to its various members. Every country received $750,000 after the last World Cup Finals. While that's a pittance for Germany or France, it's huge for Swaziland, Guam or the Cook Islands. And even better, there were no restrictions put on how the money was to be spent! It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that a lot of that money didn't wind up in football-related activities.

In addition, Africa is convinced that Sepp Blatter has been good for them. He was President when South Africa was awarded the hosting rights to the 2010 World Cup Finals, a source of great continental pride. They've also seen the introduction of the Win in Africa with Africa programme to the tune of $70,000,000 and also cash and projects via the GOAL Programme and Financial Assistance Programme. To put these amounts in some perspective, last year alone FIFA made over $4 billion.

Asia and Oceania have also received a share of FIFA handouts, but they also have their own reasons to back Blatter.

Asia Football Confederation President, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, from Bahrain, is a rival of Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al-Hassan, one of the declared candidates for the election. He's already negotiated to take the Prince's position on the FIFA Executive Committee by convincing his Confederation to make this change. He hardly wants the Prince to suddenly become his boss as of May 2015.

As for Oceania, they are so concerned with winning an automatic place in the World Cup Finals for the top Oceania qualifier that they vote for Blatter simply because he makes positive noises about this from time to time (although I doubt anything concrete will come of this). Personally I believe this is a hugely misguided viewpoint from the OFC. They would be better off trying to have four of their nations combining with Asia in World Cup Qualifying, resulting in each playing ten matches against quality opposition every four years, instead of assuring just one nation of playing three World Cup Finals matches.

Oceania is also concerned about what it has to lose, and on this front I am sympathetic. They already have automatic entry into all of the other World Cups, including women's, youth, futsal and beach soccer, plus a place in the Club World Cup. To have this access removed would be a hammer blow.

Thirdly comes the election itself. Each candidate is given fifteen minutes to address the voters. That's not very long, particularly considering Blatter has been unofficially campaigning for the past four (sixteen?) years.

Last time out, prior to the ballot, there were numerous speeches made from sycophantic delegates anxious to show Sepp Blatter how much they support him. It is reasonable to expect that this year's election will be no different. A lot of these delegates aren't the slightest bit interested in what is best for football in the country they are supposed to represent. They are only interested in what is best for themselves, personally.

The ballot itself is secret so finally there will be a chance for those nations, notably members of UEFA, who oppose Blatter to vote. But it won't change anything. In fact, knowing that there are candidates who are supported by UEFA will only further entrench Blatter's popularity among the non-European voters. It won't matter how good the other candidates are. The possibility that someone other than Sepp Blatter might be even better for them or their own regions won't even cross their minds. They will have a rare opportunity to stick it to the western powers and you know they are going to take it.

The election has already been decided.

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