News 26 February 2016

FIFA Election day: Shenanigans continue…

Today, 207 of the 209 national football associations that make up FIFA’s membership will elect a new FIFA President in a secret ballot (Kuwait and Indonesia are currently suspended). This article is intended to highlight how the process works and some of the last-minute shenanigans that have taken place, involving transparent voting booths, victory speech requests, South African meetings and more. We’ve already given you the lowdown on the Presidential candidates. You can watch the Congress, which is taking place now, live.

The Congress is Extraordinary

Getting the FIFA family together costs money, but that’s OK, because FIFA’s paying. FIFA’s 2014 Annual Report reveals that FIFA spent US$131 million on Congresses, more than half its ‘football governance’ expenditure of US$232 million. This doesn’t include personnel costs of US$115 million for 474 employees. FIFA has already held one Congress during the past year, however that didn’t go too well. At that Congress, it approved a budget of US$36 million for the 2016 FIFA Congress, which is due to take place in Mexico City on 12-13 May.

Each of the 209 national associations can send up to three delegates to the Hallenstadion in Zurich, despite each association only having one vote, and FIFA will cover their travel costs and accommodation. Under Article 17.3 of FIFA’s Electoral Regulations for the FIFA Presidency, ‘Only the FIFA members present are entitled to vote’ for the new President, and they get one vote each, regardless of size, in a secret ballot. This means that the Seychelles is entitled to send three delegates to Zurich on FIFA’s tab, despite having a population under 100,000, as can Brazil, with a population of over 200 million.

Although such a system appears rife for corruption, it is clearly important to FIFA and is enshrined in page 71 of the Standing Orders of the Congress within the FIFA Statues (page 71). It is also present in FIFA’s draft Statues (p57), which will be approved by the national associations at Congress today. It would take a brave national association to stand up against such a generous junket – but then again, it would take a brave national association to stay at the Baur au Lac hotel…

Transparent voting booths

Presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al Hussein had some fun by sending transparent voting booths to Zurich. If sense of humour comes into consideration amongst the national associations, then he might have a chance.

On a more serious note, a secret ballot is a staple of most electoral processes, as it allows votes to be made free from intimidation. Prince Ali had concerns that some of his rivals may have been exerting pressure on national associations to record proof that they had voted a certain way, and his argument was that FIFA’s booths would allow them to do this via mobile phone cameras.

Ali’s idea was taken up by Presidential rival Jérôme Champagne, who appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against FIFA’s decision not to use transparent booths. Unfortunately, the CAS rejected Champagne’s complaint. However, it is understood that FIFA has banned mobile phones from the voting booths.

‘Observers’ as enforcers

If you are hoping to secure block votes from football’s confederations, you need to be on the Congress floor lobbying that the national associations, so that they vote for you. Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, has already brokered a deal which he says will ensure the AFC and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) vote for him. As the table below illustrates, the two bodies make up almost half of the voting 207 national associations.

Champagne has also complained about the number of ‘observers’ from the Asian and European football confederations being admitted to the Congress. Champagne is understood to be concerned that these observers will carry out lobbying on the Congress floor on behalf of rival candidates Sheikh Salman and Infantino. He argues that this is unfair, as Salman and Infantino have the leverage to do this as heads of the Asian and European football confederations (AFC & UEFA) respectively, while the other candidates do not have such leverage.

Champagne hoped that FIFA’s Electoral Committee Chairman, Domenico Scala, would cancel 20 extra passes for observers from UEFA and seven for the AFC. ‘Candidates are supposed to be treated equally (for example, with the same number of accreditations for ‘team companions’) [but] the quantities of additional accreditations, 20 for UEFA and seven for the AFC, betray a gross violation of the principle of fairness’, he wrote in a letter to Scala. Champagne noted that the observers included ‘most of the members of these two candidates’ campaign teams’.

He also objected that Sheikh Salman appeared to using ‘his position as a FIFA Vice-President to obtain additional access privileges for some “guests”. This reveals the objective to swamp the congress hall with confederation employees able to access the voting FAs and their delegates.’ It is unknown if his request was successful, however he has not carried out his request to register this complaint with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Poor old Tokyo…

South African Tokyo Sexwale appears to have been completely blindsided by Sheikh Salman’s deal with the AFC and CAF. He has doggedly refused to withdraw from the election, despite his own confederation deciding not to back him. He is even unsure if his own country will back him. He met with Infantino on Robben Island this week in order to discuss lobbying tactics ahead of the election.

Cultural shift?

What does all of this tell us? It appears that there has been no seismic shift in the way in which FIFA Presidential candidates use influence and power within football in order to secure Presidential votes. A live debate between the candidates at the European Parliament was planned ahead of today, yet FIFA didn’t clarify whether such a debate would have broken its rules on political interference in football. Why?

Damian Collins MP, of NewFIFANow, argues that this speaks volumes about FIFA’s desire for real change. “The debates in the European Parliament could have gone ahead, and didn’t go ahead because of a lack of guidance from FIFA about whether candidates should take part”, Collins told the Sports Integrity Initiative. “I raised this with Domenico Scala  to ask if he would give a ruling, and he wouldn’t […] Political interference is really about governments and countries seeking to exploit and use football for their own political ends […] It’s a secret process, and I think that the concern will be that it’s being driven by secret deals. That’s why people have been right to call out the deal between the African and the Asian confederations, and question if that is linked to votes in the Presidential election. The election process is really based on a series of secret meetings between the candidates and the different members associations. Who knows what is being discussed or offered in those meetings?”

The concern with the electoral process and the reforms being discussed today is that once again, FIFA is attempting to internalise everything, away from outside influence. This is perhaps illustrated best by FIFA’s request that the five Presidential candidates submit their victory speeches ahead of the Congress, so that they can manage the message that they send to the world. Infantino told The Guardian that he would resist any such attempt.

The money that FIFA is putting into organising such Congresses must also be a cause for concern, yet FIFA’s revised Statues enshrine the current process, which is based on flying up to 627 football executives around the world and accommodating them in a lavish Congress that actually does little that couldn’t be accomplished using today’s interconnecting technology. None of the candidates appear to have addressed that issue.

At Congress this morning, FIFA claimed that its finances are under strain. However two days ago, it welcomed the media to its new CHF30 million (€27.5 million) Football Museum in Zurich. A press release revealed that FIFA had spent a total of CHF140 million (€128 million) on renovating the building in which the museum is housed. The brazenness of announcing this two days before a Congress during which FIFA’s very existence is likely to come into question illustrates that FIFA has seriously underestimated the lack of public confidence in the organisation, and demonstrates that FIFA has perhaps forgotten that it is funded by the public. Transparency International recently reported that 69% of the public don’t have confidence in FIFA, yet on it plods, unperturbed.

For any cultural shift to occur, it appears that we may need to look across the pond. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has a knack of timing arrests of football executives to coincide with the football family’s events. When it announced its second round of indictments against football executives in December last year, it timed them to coincide with FIFA’s trumpeting of its reform process. The first round of indictments, announced on 27 May, were planned to coincide with a FIFA Presidential election. The football family will be watching the doors of the Hallenstadion today…

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