This morning, international football governing body FIFA announced the shortlist of four final candidates in the running for the organization’s presidency.
The remaining candidates include incumbent president Joseph (Sepp) Blatter, former Real Madrid player and Portuguese great Luis Figo, Royal Dutch Football Association president Michael van Praag and Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, currently vice president of the Asian Football Confederation.
Frenchman Jérôme Champagne, widely viewed as a more radical challenger, was eliminated after he failed to garner nominations from five different football associations, the minimum required to advance in the process. In his formal withdrawal letter, Champagne, who secured nominations from three associations, blamed UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) and other “institutions” that he accused of conspiring to eliminate him.
The French contender, a former deputy general secretary of FIFA, has been a harsh critic of major leagues like UEFA — a stance that no doubt contributed to his unpopularity among some associations.
In his letter, Champagne lambasted the power structures of international football:
“The hidden agenda – or not so hidden after all – is clear: under the guise of reforming Fifa lies the objective of further weakening it in favour of continental structures. This at a time when a strong governance of football, with regulatory and redistributive powers, is needed more than ever.
“It is also to pave the road for the wealthy actors of the west European football to get their hands on the last thing they do not control yet: Fifa and the world government of football.”
Though all three challengers are running on a platform of proposed reforms, they enjoy backing from various national and regional associations and have not offered the same kind of open criticism of football’s powerful governing bodies.
The Swiss Blatter has held the organization’s presidency since 1998 — if reelected this year, it would be his fifth term as FIFA president. However, his tenure has not been without controversy.
Under his guidance, FIFA has been dogged by accusations of corruption, including charges that the organization accepted bribes leading to Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup; forced to respond to concerns about human rights and labor violations in construction for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as well as the upcoming one in Qatar; and come under fire for a number of Blatter’s less-PC statements about racism in football and women’s uniforms, to name a few.
With many associations and fans tired of Blatter’s rule, and a number of associations in Europe and Asia already pledging to back Prince Ali in the upcoming elections, the incumbent president could face a serious challenge to his longstanding tenure, though he is still widely expected to win yet another reelection. Even if Blatter were to lose, it remains to be seen if a new face would actually bring real change to one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful sports organizations.
The elections for FIFA’s next president will take place on May 29 in Zurich, Switzerland, with the participation of 209 affiliated national football associations.