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It’s a presidential election that sounds more Soviet than a modern democracy – but even Politburo chairmen got deposed every now and again.
The 209 member nations of soccer's governing body, FIFA, must choose this week, via secret ballot, between four-time incumbent, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter of Switzerland, and Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al Hussein – a 20-1 long-shot, according to Great Britain's bookies.
To Blatter's critics, it's as good as a royal match: The strong-willed soccer boss who previously said he wouldn’t run for a fifth term and who has been plagued by accusations of corruption is a "prince" – at least by Machiavelli’s standards.
And while the literal prince is also the president of Jordan's soccer federation, that kingdom's national side has never made it to the World Cup Finals.
Still, Prince Ali is already a member of the FIFA executive committee and supposedly got the endorsement of US Soccer’s president, Sunil Gulati, in February.
He also has the backing of Michel Platini, the powerful President of Europe’s governing body, UEFA, and the prince is running on a platform of much-needed reform and greater transparency.
Prince Ali promised to impose a two-term limit to the FIFA presidency and to expand World Cup Finals to 36 teams from the present 32 in time for the 2018 Cup in Russia, in an attempt to gain support from also-ran counties.
Whether this will be a vote-getter, we will have to wait and see. I think the finals are overcrowded at 32.
In another sign of how FIFA is fueled by favors, the Jordanian prince – in an attempt to break Blatter’s stranglehold on Asia and Africa – reportedly offered to give one million dollars a year to all soccer associations.
As recently as last week there were two other candidates: Luis Figo, the former Portugal and Real Madrid great, and the president of the Dutch association, Michael Van Praag. Both dropped out after careful consideration.
For Figo, enough was enough. He issued damning comments about FIFA’s electoral system, calling it a “plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man – something I refuse to go along with.”
He added, “Over the past few months, I have not only witnessed that desire [for change], I have witnessed consecutive incidents, all over the world, that should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic.”
Figo said he still wanted to play an active role in what he called the "regeneration of FIFA," but not until "it’s proven to me that we are not living under a dictatorship."
Van Praag, who held a joint press conference with Prince Ali in Amsterdam to announce his exit from the race, basically took one for the team and endorsed Prince Ali, whom he deemed as having a better chance at clinching the top job.
Van Praag was by far the best candidate for the job, but he also fell victim to an organization that matches the United Nations in its bureaucratic nature and ability to grant substantial power to countries whose very memberships give cause for concern. Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Russia and China all sit on the UN’s Human Rights Council – and all have retched human rights records.
In the same vein, Russia will host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar in 2022, both countries have human rights records that are a major cause for concern. Qatar stands accused of using slave labor to build its stadiums and, of course, of funding terrorism.
A Van Praag presidency likely would have ensured that a Russia or Qatar World Cup wouldn’t have happened again.
In an interview with Fox News Latino earlier this year, he said he would have made human rights the cornerstone of every World Cup bid. As part of his dropping out of the race, Van Praag had Prince Ali agree to carry on with his human rights agenda.
The prince is seen by some in the game as a reformer, although for evidence his supporters point to his success in pushing FIFA to allow Muslim women footballers to wear the traditional headscarves when they play. Which doesn’t do much for transparency.
Whether that's enough to cause an upset and prove the bookies wrong remains doubtful.
My recommendation to the delegates: Don't vote for either candidate, find a super sub who can score a last minute winner for the players, coaches, fans and, most important, our beautiful game.
Video of the Week
Striker Didier Drogba gets carried off the pitch by his Chelsea teammates after playing his last game for this year’s Premier League champions.
From the Wires
The Russian government has cut its budget for the 2018 World Cup by more than $70 million.
When Russia won the bid to host the event, its economy was booming. But under the pressure of Western sanctions and low oil prices, the economy has suffered over the past year and concerns are high about the financial burden of the World Cup.
The government website says the budget will be cut by $71 million to $13.2 billion. The savings is to come from lowering expenditures of electrical-infrastructure improvements connected with the competition.
Last week, Russian authorities said they wanted to use prisoner labor to help prepare for the World Cup.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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