Late last week and continuing into this one there has been growing speculation that Sepp Blatter is going to face opposition for his position as FIFA President – beyond that of Grant Wahl of course.
Blatter was initially elected in 1998 and took over from long serving FIFA President, Joao Havelange. Thirteen years ago Blatter saw off UEFA President Lennart Johansson by a margin of 30 votes with a total of just over 190 cast. It was a bitter battle with accusations of vote tampering and other improprieties common place.
Four years later Blatter again faced opposition this time from the African Federation President Issa Hayatou. Given that the election took place during a period of squabbling and strife within the FIFA family it was testament to Blatter’s political skills that he actually saw off the challenge as comfortably as he did – 139 to 56.
By the time 2007 rolled around no one was willing – nor brave enough – to reprise Issa Hayatou’s role as a failed and largely incompetent Brutus. Now with the FIFA Congress in Zurich coming into view and the election date of June 1 set, the name of the Asian Federation President Mohamed Bin Hammam is being touted as the man to step forward and oust the 75-year-old Blatter.
Bin Hammam is 14 years younger but can point to 15 years as a member of the FIFA Executive. He also brings experience from other sports at an international level.
The common theme in the story being run by the mainstream media and many bloggers is that Bin Hammam is currently gauging his level of support amongst voters and that he will make up his mind before the March 20 opening of the UEFA Congress in Paris.
The basic story was broken by the Guardian and much of the echo-type articles have replicated much of the supposition contained in the original.
It goes something like this – Bin Hammam has votes from South American sown up but needs to garner support from Michel Platini and Jack Warner who “control” the voting blocks of UEFA and CONCACAF respectively. If he – Bin Hammam – can sway the power-brokers then he has a good chance of toppling Blatter.
On the most basic level it seems like this would be a grand time to take a run at Blatter the despot.
Financial irregularities, questionable voting practises, the decisions to award the 18 and 22 World Cups to Russia and Qatar as well as the general stench of corruption that us hung over FIFA for years all seem to conspire to make it the best possible time to take the incumbent on…….or out.
But there are also a number of flaws that have been brushed over and there are a number of sound reasons why it may not be such a great idea after all.
A consummate politician such as Blatter does not survive in a high-profile position without enjoying some level of loyalty and support through relationships built over many decades of involvement.
Or to put it another way – he should know where many of the bodies are buried. Those who thought they had disposed of corpses long ago might find a gentle reminder within a turn of phrase, a raised eyebrow or an inexplicable absence from a guest list.
Although it often seems that the likes of Sepp Blatter go on forever – it seemed that way with his predecessor Joao Havelange – they don’t and all things end. Although he has promised to step aside before, this coming term will be Blatter’s last. It offers him a powerful tool to twist arms –“just four more years and I will go gracefully”. For members of such an incestuous group as FIFA that is a powerful argument.
Further the assumption that the Qatari has the South American electorate wrapped up rings very hollow. Three high profile South Americans sit on the FIFA Executive and have shown few signs of wavering in the past.
Julio Grondona of Argentina – the Senior Vice President of FIFA – and Nicolás Leoz (Paraguay) are both long serving members and there appears to be no compelling reason why they should suddenly turn on Blatter who has shielded both gentlemen from a closer inspection of their business “practices”.
Even more illogical is why Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira would turn tail and run into the arms of Bin Hammam. Teixeira is the President of the Brazilian Federation as well as being President of the 2014 World Cup committee and happens to be the son-in-law of Joao Havelange. Oh and there is also the rumour that Teixeira harbours an ambition to follow his Dad-in-law as well.
All that leads to one question – why would Teixeira suddenly switch to Bin Hammam and risk everything with no obvious improvement to his own position. Bin Hammam gets elected in 2011 – sit back because the next Presidential limo won’t arrive for another 8 to 12 years.
Some of the same reasoning stands true for Michel Platini. What’s more the assumption that Platini controls UEFA’s 50 odd votes is asinine. Toss in the fact that Platini may well be looking at 2015 as an opportunity to make a step up and the postulation of Platini as a man who could swing the vote Bin Hammam’s way seems pretty outlandish.
Commenting on the history of Jack Warner, the CONCACAF vote, and the ensuing support for Sepp Blatter might take a few chapters of a book. In fact there are such books already …Google Andrew Jennings. Warner and Chuck Blazer are currently playing to their audience with displays of indignation at not been allotted another half spot or full spot in 2014. But it is just play fighting.
Perhaps the real objective for Bin Hammam is 2015. Making a little noise, getting a little press, ruffling a few feathers – all good for instilling some nervousness and when people are nervous they may be more willing to sign “IOUs” cashable in 2015.
Or maybe someone else is pulling the strings and using the man from Qatar purely as a stalking horse. Stay tuned.
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