FIFA's new president: Who will take over from Blatter?

Five candidates are in the running for international soccer's top job Friday. All are FIFA insiders, so those expecting top-down reform are prepared to be disappointed.

Five candidates are in the running for soccer's top job Friday, all are FIFA insiders

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, shown here after he resigned as FIFA president last year, four days after being re-elected to a fifth term. Blatter, 79, announced the decision at a news conference in Zurich, six days after the FBI raided a hotel in Zurich and arrested several FIFA officials. (Ruben Sprich/Reuters)

Nearly nine months after senior FIFA officials were paraded out of a lavish Swiss hotel and into squad cars, world soccer's governing body will elect a new president on Friday.

And for the first time in 22 years, the name Joseph "Sepp" Blatter won't appear on the ballot.

Since that May 2015 raid, some 40 individuals and entities connected to FIFA have been charged with crimes ranging from racketeering to money laundering, all part of a $150-million bribery scandal.

While the embattled and unrepentant Blatter hasn't been charged, a FIFA ethics committee barred him for eight years from the sport he's presided over since 1998. Yesterday, in the run-up to this week's vote it was reduced to six years by a FIFA appeals committee.

The president's job is to supervise FIFA's executive committee, where real power is concentrated. And while its salary is secret, FIFA's 2014 financial report states that $39.7 million was paid to "key management personnel."

Here are the four things to know if you are following along at home:

1) Five candidates, but a two-horse race

Five candidates are vying for the presidency, but the battle is effectively a two-horse race.

The front-runner is Sheik Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a Bahraini royal and president of the Asian Football Confederation.

Last week, he revealed that he's not particularly fond of elections and hoped a single candidate could be agreed upon beforehand. "If we go to election there will be losers, and maybe sometimes you need to avoid that result," he told the Associated Press.

FIFA executive member Sheik Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain is widely considered to be the frontrunner in Friday's vote. (Patrick B. Kraemer/Keystone/Associated Press)

Some groups have claimed that Salman's also not keen on human rights, citing the state's crackdown on pro-democracy activists in 2011.

He denies that is the case, and signed an Amnesty International human rights pledge this month, but only after mentions of LGBT groups, women and the Qatar and Russia World Cups were scrubbed from the document.

His toughest competition is Gianni Infantino, the Swiss-Italian general secretary of European football's governing body, the UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations.

Infantino entered the race only as a placeholder for Michel Platini, his boss, who, like Blatter, was also slapped with an eight-year ban from football while corruption investigations continue. Platini was long considered Blatter's heir apparent, and his suspension was just reduced to six years as well.

The other candidates are Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, a Jordanian prince; Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA general secretary; and Tokyo Sexwale, a multimillionaire mining tycoon from South Africa.

All are considered FIFA insiders. Both Champagne and Prince Ali filed official complaints this week about the voting process.

2) No outsiders please

Previously, anyone could announce his or her candidacy, but only those able to obtain a public nomination from at least one of FIFA's member associations could become official candidates on the ballot.

In 2011, Grant Wahl, a Sports Illustrated reporter, sought the nomination in a partially serious campaign to represent the common fan. Wahl was unable to secure even one public nomination, but his challenge led to a stiffening of rules in 2013 to prevent another upstart from attempting to run.

Now, candidates must be formally nominated by five FIFA member associations and have worked in a federation for at least two of the five years preceding the election.

FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino (R) jokes with rival Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa earlier this week. Insiders predict Infantino could take more than half the votes from Africa in Friday's election, despite the continent's governing body endorsing his major rival Sheik Salman of Bahrain. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Alexandra Wrage, an anti-bribery expert from TRACE International who quit an earlier FIFA reform effort in 2013 due to lack of buy-in from FIFA leadership, says doubts persist over the prospect of real change since the system was specifically fashioned to thwart outsiders from being nominated.

"The next president of FIFA will have risen up through the current, flawed system," she said. "The longstanding network of relationships, favours and secret deals will be largely intact."

3) One-country, one-vote

FIFA is composed of 209 member associations from around the world and the presidential election process is organized on a one-country, one-vote system. This ensures votes from small countries like Vanuatu count just as much as those from large ones like Germany.

Before voting begins, FIFA must decide whether Indonesia and Kuwait — both suspended last year following allegations of political interference in the running of their soccer associations — will be allowed to vote.

To win on the first round of voting, a candidate must capture two-thirds of the votes. A majority is needed after that, and the lowest-ranked candidate is nixed from the ballot after each round.

4) The reform plan

The delegates voting for president will also be voting on a reform plan, which proposes term limits for the president and other executives, integrity checks, pay transparency, the appointment of a chief compliance officer and the separation of administrative and commercial tasks from political and strategic ones.

Reformers say the checks and balances don't go far enough. For one thing, the plan would continue to allow FIFA to police itself.

"The only chance we have for real change involves brief interim oversight by a truly independent team," says Wrage.

The reforms are "a good start," said David Larkin, an expert in international sports law, but don't address deeply rooted corruption problems at the confederation or member association level.

"We'll have a change in name on Friday, but we won't have a change in culture," he said.


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