With just three days to go before 207 out of 209 national associations gather at the Hallenstadion in Zurich on Friday for the election of a new President we have some last minute shenanigans. (2 associations, including Indonesia, are suspended).
At a 13,000 seat venue that is home to the ZSC Lions ice hockey team it has hosted tennis, handball, cycling and concerts featuring The Rolling Stones(followed by riots) Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Marley, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Britney Spears, Bayonce, Rihanna, Cher, One Direction, Justin Bieber, U2 and Robbie Williams. It hosted the 61st FIFA Congress in June 2011 and the 65th in May 2015..with a performance by Sepp Blatter to match them all !!
There are five candidates but only two of them, Gianni Infantino 45, the Swiss UEFA general secretary and Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khaifa of Bahrain age 56 are serious contenders. Bahrain has a serious human rights record and the Sheikh has been accused of being part of the problem. Infantino flew to Cape Town yesterday (how much is a last minute first class ticket?) to meet with Tokyo Sexwale, the multi millionaire mining magnet and former prisoner with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. The others, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, 39, of Jordan. Jerome Champagne 57 of France a former diplomat and assistant FIFA general secretary and the Sheikh all declined the last minute invitation.
Sexwale took Infantina on the boat to Robben Island and the infamous cells.( I visited in late 2009 and it was an eye opening experience). Yesterday Prince Ali announced that he had designed and paid for TRANSPARENT voting booths which he has shipped to Zurich. Today he asked that the ELECTIONS BE POSTPONED. despite most delegates already in the air and ready for meetings such as that of CONCACAF on Thursday. US Soccer will have 5 delegates in Zurich but only one MLS Commissioner Don Garber will be in the voting booth.
Prince Ali's Parisian lawyers went to the Court of Arbitrition for Sport (CAS) to ask for a postponement. His transparent booths have also been rejected. He thinks that Sheikh Salman, the Asian Football Confederation, will unfairly influence the voting. There are rumours that delegates have been approached by middle men to accept payment for their votes and to photograph their voting slips to prove it before accepting a stuffed brown envelope later. The Sheikh claims that he has the Asian vote sewn up, and also that of CAF and the Africans, but Infantino is confident of getting many Asian and African votes, along with UEFA, South America an CONCACAF. It is expected to go to a second round of voting which will only need a straight majority. CAS has said that it will make a decision by Thursday.
FIFA has stated that all delegates that vote will have their phones confiscated prior to entering the voting booth. Not sure if there will be a strip search for extra phones? Will there be another raid of delegates luxury suites at the BAUER AU LAC hotel where early morning raids in May witnessed the sensational arrests by the Swiss Federal Police.?
Perhaps even more important than the Presidential election will be the vote on major structural changes at FIFA, including doing away with the EXCO, more transparency, term limits and doing away with many of the committees. Infantino reckons that a FIFA Congress costs $30 million to stage, SIXTY TIMES that of a UEFA Congress, As for transpareny, many associations do not publish their finances and about 50 don't even have a web site, FIFA, with reserves estimated at $1.5 BILLION, has been sending money for its GOAL PROJECT and other contributions with little or no supervision. Money has gone into the private accounts of many association officials.
VOTE FOR GIANNI !