FIFA Elections: Change is Nigh

Can the new president save the organization?  

Soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, will elect a new president on Friday as the organization looks to put to bed the corruption scandal that has made many question its role in the beautiful game.

Delegates from the six football associations, including the Union of European Football Associations, or UEFA, the South American Football Confederation, or Conmebol, and the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association, or Concacaf, will choose from six candidates vying for FIFA's top job.

Prince Ali Al Hussein, FIFA vice president; Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, president of the Asian Football Confederation; Jerome Champagne, an executive at FIFA from 1999 to 2010; Tokyo Sexwale, South African businessman; and Gianni Infantino, UEFA general secretary are looking to become the permanent replacement for the ever unpopular Joseph "Sepp" Blatter.

The bumbling Blatter was suspended from all football related activities for six years after an inquest by a FIFA ethics committee in December found the Swiss guilty of giving Michel Platini, who was one of the body’s vice presidents, an illicit payment of US$1.8 million. However, Blatter has continued to receive his chunky salary of about a million dollars a month.

Platini, once a highly revered player, was also suspended from all soccer related activities for six years after the investigation. Both still protest their innocence and have launched appeals. Platini is even hopeful of running in the upcoming elections, if he clears his name in time, however that seems highly unlikely.

"The fiesta of soccer, a feast for the legs that play and the eyes that watch, is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland."

Eduardo Galeano

British comedian known as Lee Nelson (unseen) throws banknotes at former FIFA President Sepp Blatter as he arrived for a news conference after the Extraordinary FIFA Executive Committee Meeting at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland July 20, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

The ousting of the pair was only part of the gutting of world football’s governing bodies in the past few months, with Latin American organizations at the center of the scandal that has called into to question the legitimacy of Russia’s and Qatar's successful World Cup bids in late 2010. Russia will host the next World Cup in 2018 while Qatar, a tiny piece of land that juts out from Saudi Arabia and happens to have some of largest gas reserves in the world, will see the game's premier competition hit its shores in 2022. Due the scorching heat of Middle-Eastern summers the tournament has been shifted to the winter, which will interrupt Premier League and La Liga seasons, if it goes ahead.

The suspicion of foul play in the aforementioned World Cup selections prompted a Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2015 and the indictment of 14 current and former FIFA officials and associates on charges of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption.

The Uruguayan former FIFA Vice President Eugenio Figueredo, who also was Conmebol’s chief from 1993 to 2013, was among those arrested in the crackdown.

Figueredo was later jailed in Uruguay, pending trial on charges of racketeering and money laundering, after his extradition from Switzerland.

"Soccer elevates its divinities and exposes them to the vengeance of the believers. With the ball on his foot and the national colors on his chest, the player who embodies the nation marches off to win glory on far-off battlefields."
Eduardo Galeano

The U.S. resumed its investigations in December when a further 16 officials were charged with corruption by the Department of Justice including the then presidents of Concacaf and Conmebol.

Conmebol President Juan Angel Napout, Figueredo’s successor, resigned from his post after being arrested in Zurich for racketeering and has since been extradited to the U.S. where he is being tried.

Earlier in February, a FIFA ethics committee recommended that Colombian Luis Bedoya and Chilean Sergio Jadue be banned from participating from the sport at any professional level.

The committee’s investigation, headed by Cornel Borbely, uncovered what it deemed to be violations of six articles of its code of ethics, including bribery and corruption. 

Bedoya, who was on FIFA’s executive committee member until 2014, and Jadue, who sat on Conembol’s executive committee, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy in December after a U.S.-led corruption investigation into FIFA, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ecuador’s football federation president, Luis Chiriboga, and secretary, Francisco Acosta, were placed under house arrest in December 2015 as part of the scandal. Chiriboga, also a member of the executive committee of South American soccer confederation Conmebol, handed himself into Ecuadorean authorities. He will face trial in Ecuador.

The majority of officials charged with corruption held active roles in Conmebol and the Concacaf much to the chagrin of Latin American football where despite years of terrible mismanagement the game’s popularity remains strong.

"And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don't give a damn which team or country performs it!"
Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer, journalist, and political activist, who was most famous for his book "Las venas abiertas de América Latina" or "Open Veins of Latin America," was aghast at the scandal that has unraveled within the game he loved dearly over the past few years.

"Open Veins of Latin America" offered a people’s history of Latin America with the eloquent Galeano relaying Latin America's economic exploitation by interfering powers.

Galeano, who died at the age of 74 last year, may have been better known for his anti-imperialist stance and his set of socialists values that influenced his writing heavily, however the author had an unabashed passion for soccer and an unrivaled knowledge of the game.

His masterpiece "El fútbol a sol y sombra," or "Soccer in Sun and Shadow," which he penned in 1998, afforded some of the most memorable quotes on the sport and suggested that FIFA would have been better run should “the people who embrace” soocer be in control, opposed to Blatter and his cronies.

"Pedro Rocha slid along like a snake in the grass. He played joyfully and his joy was infectious: the joy of the play, the joy of the goal. He did whatever he wanted with the ball, and she believed every bit of it."
Eduardo Galeano

Galeano noted the number of Latinos involved in the numerous scandals and lambasted them accordingly. There is little question he loathed to see the romanticism taken out if the game and the focus taken off the players who were "born in a straw cribs in a tin-roofed shacks" and entered “the world clinging to a ball,” as they often are in South America.

Instead, “Brazilians, who are the most soccer mad have decided not to allow their sport to be used anymore as an excuse for humiliating the many and enriching the few” and have surrendered their footballing heritage to “overlords from Switzerland.”

Brazil, the most successful side in World Cup history amassing five titles, has been embroiled in corruption scandals for the past two decades. Before last year’s incitements, Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazil Football Confederation, or CBF, from 1989 to 2012, was found, along with his former father-in-law Joao Havelange to have taken more than US$41 million in bribes in connection with the award of World Cup marketing rights.

Even the affable Pele, one of the greatest players to grace the game, had a long lasting feud with the Teixeira after he accused him of corruption back in 1993. Little has been seen or heard of Teixeira since he was forced out of his job over allegations of bribery and other financial irregularities in 2012.

Teixeira’s departure didn't signal a corruption-free era from Brazilian soccer. His successor, Jose Maria Marin, was arrested in May 2015 in the first U.S. led FIFA corruption case. Marin, like his predecessor, was accused of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy tied to the award of broadcasting and hosting rights for the World Cup and other tournaments.

The US$15 million Marin paid to a New York court to be released on bail in his November court case is a far cry to the story of Artur Friedenreich which Galeano wrote in "Soccer in Sun and Shadow" with verve.

Galeano describes Friedenreich, who played in the early 1900s, as the “son of a German immigrant and a Black washerwoman” who in his 26-year playing career “never earned a cent” despite amassing more professional goals than “Brazilian artilleryman, Pele.”

The comparison he draws between the players of the past who played only for the love of the game and the modern day decision makers of FIFA and the world’s football associations is vast.

Sadly his aphoristic description of players, such as Friedenreich and German international Gerd Muller, who fooled the opposition by keeping his "fangs and claws hidden" while on the pitch could be apt descriptions of the money and power hungry men in suits who used the game for a pay day. “Through such primitive ecstasy they fulfill their dreams,” Galeano exclaimed. “Their animal instinct overtakes human reason, ignorance crushes culture, and the riff-raff get what they want.”

However, in his works on soccer Galeano preached hope, indeed he called himself a “beggar” for a good match. He underlined the emotions the sport can make grown men feel from the stands, without kicking a ball, suggesting he believed the game can be reclaimed by those with an unbridled passion for it.

“For better or for worse, though the fields are as far away as could be, friends from the neighborhood or workmates from the factory, the office of the faculty still get together to play for fun until they collapse exhausted,” he wrote.

It could be said that his chronicle of centuries of economic exploitation in "Open Veins Latin America" is symbolic of the ransacking of the game by officials who abused their positions of power. 

Friday’s election could herald a new era for FIFA, freed from the money men who have been in control of the game for far too long, but for the organization's long-term stability, major reforms within the body are crucial to avoid further scandals.

The revolt from fans likes Galeano may seem to have little effect on proceedings within the game's boardrooms however, as he once wrote “many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world.”