Amid the backdrop of moving the most unpopular and unethical World Cup of all time to winter, FIFA approval, at least in Europe, has reached an unprecedented low.
Under the leadership of its seemingly immovable dictator Sepp Blatter, now challenging for his fifth presidential term, world football’s governing body has become a hotbed of corruption, opaque sleaze and amorality, now endorsing one World Cup – Russia 2018 – in a nation that banned it’s transgendered from driving last month, openly intimidates the gay population as government policy and whose football fans wave around Swastikas whilst monkey-chanting at black players, followed by another – Qatar 2022 – in a country so hot the final could move to Christmas Eves’ Eve to avoid a 50°C summer, and will kill over 4000 migrant workers to build twelve new stadia in a landmass smaller than the Falkland Islands, all in the name of FIFA’s ‘political’ message of unity, expansion of its unchecked power to the farthest corners of the globe and, of course, making as much money as possible.
It sounds completely preposterous for a game as simple as football – a game that, at its most basic, requires only an even number of players, a small stretch of vacant land and four jumpers for goal posts – yet that is the position we, as a sport, are currently in. The scandalised reaction to FIFA’s scandalous cover up of Michael Garcia’s report on corruption in the World Cup bidding process zeitgeists the ill-feeling towards an apparently lawless, decadent and supranational organisation that’s completely lost touch with the everyday fan perfectly.
For the sake of credibility, FIFA desperately needs some new blood in its highest positions, starting with its leviathan leader, Blatter. In comparison to the pathetically uncompetitive elections in recent years, there’s now three candidates standing against him for the next presidency; Dutch Football Association president Michael van Praag, Jordanian executive committee member Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein and former Portugal international Luis Figo.
The latter stands out as a candidate with the image and popularity to awaken FIFA from the endless malaise of ivory tower corruption. Whilst van Praag and Al-Hussein represent only further backhanded, nepotistic bureaucracy, Figo is at least a name recognisable to the majority of the footballing world, someone capable of drumming up mass appeal and isn’t already a part of football’s defunct governance. It may be populist and reactionary, but FIFA intrinsically require a leader the average fan – not only its decision-making politicos – feel comfortable supporting.
That man is certainly Figo; an early legend of the Champions League era, a former Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year winner, Portugal’s all-time leading appearance maker and one of the few men brave enough to cross Barcelona and Real Madrid’s ancient rivalry. He’s handsome, he’s young, he’s smart, he’s charismatic, he’s adored my millions and he’s scandal free. He’s everything Blatter isn’t.
Yet even the best of men can become plagued by the worst of ideas, and that’s unfortunately what will condemn Figo’s presidential bid.
The long-awaited policy of investing half of FIFA’s $2.5billion annual revenue into grassroots football, whilst returning two-thirds of their dust-gathering $1billion cash reserves back to the 209 national federations, strikes at the core FIFA’s increasing synonymy with soul-corrupting fortune, but those noble proposals are strongly juxtaposed by a list of suggestions more associative with a crackpot talkSPORT contestant; creating a new World Cup format with 48 teams and three mini-tournaments over two continents, reversion to the ‘old’ offside rule, an increased use of technology to support referees and the introduction of sin bins for unsporting behaviour.
Accordance with such ideas singularly is hardly absurd. There are likely many disillusioned with the current offside rule; although it does face facilitate for more goals, a higher pace to the game and freer movement of strikers. There are many who believe football should follow the models of rugby and cricket by using video technology; although the number of potential anti-climaxes could become somewhat nauseating. There are some who view the punishment of sin bins as an imperative step towards improving the image of the average son-of-a-docker-vocabulary footballer; although how that would fit into the red and yellow card system remains to be seen. And there are a few, believe it or not, that don’t like the current World Cup format.
But when thrown together, they create a manifesto of incoherent confusion – the linking idea being the new, radical direction Figo wants to take football in, yet the practical policies seemingly drawn from the sport’s sparsest, peripheral criticisms.
Perhaps it’s an attempt at negative cohesion – encapsulating the concerns of many to create widespread appeal. Perhaps it’s an exercise in the old business adage of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. There’s still more than enough time for Figo to reduce some policies, and even if he does become FIFA president, there’s no obligation to implement them at all.
Yet, the 42 year-old isn’t pledging for the backing of the common man, the billions of football fans worldwide. He’s got to gain the support of FIFA’s 65th Congress, or more specifically, the 209 member nations – each granted a single vote for the presidential ballot. The ballot’s secrecy spares them from threat of retribution, which only plays in Figo’s favour, but this is a room full of bureaucrats enjoying the taste of Blatter’s teet, that have voted for the same president since 1998, despite scandal after scandal and the farce of the last two one-candidate elections, and took until 2014 to agree upon introducing the most basic of goal-line technology at a World Cup.
These are not brave figures, radicals or revolutionaries; they are conservative men who, despite FIFA’s worldwide unpopularity, largely prefer the current status quo. Even if Figo persuades them to reduce the powers of FIFA’s purse, they will not be prepared to experiment with the fundamental rules of the game itself, or a World Cup format that continues to ensure the vast majority of the governing body’s revenue.
Convincing 105 to vote against Blatter was a monolithic task within itself, but the inclusion of such radical and divisive notions only makes Figo’s presidential campaign improbably harder. Unless the Portugal legend revises his platform between now and the election in May, we could be stuck with four more years of Blatter.