Blatter takes campaign to Africa amid mounting support for Bin Hammam in FIFA presidential election
The president of world soccer body FIFA, Sepp Blatter, is taking his re-election campaign to Africa this week amid mounting opposition to a Confederation of African Football (CAF) decision to back him against his challenger Mohammed Bin Hammam, the Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation.
Mr. Blatter is scheduled to meet with African soccer leaders in Johannesburg next weekend during a gathering called to discuss a lasting legacy for the 2010 World Cup. The Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) says Mr. Blatter will meet with representatives from four of the five regional African federations on Saturday.
Mr. Blatter, a 75-year old imperious Swiss soccer manager, is seeking a fourth term as FIFA president against the backdrop of mounting allegations of corruption in last December’s awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
CAF’s executive committee recently declared its support for Mr. Blatter. The decision by the Cairo- based organization in which Egypt is a heavyweight and that also groups the Arab nations of North Africa was a setback for Mr. Bin Hammam, who is campaigning on a platform that calls for greater transparency. CAF’s 53 federations account for a quarter of FIFA's total membership.
Mr. Bin Hammam can take heart from the fact that a number of African federations, including Mali and Liberia, are protesting against the CAF executive committee endorsement of Mr. Blatter.
Mali Football Federation president Hammadoun Kolado Cisse warned that he had not yet decided which of the two candidates he would endorse.
“The executive committee can make a recommendation, but the national federations decide their own vote. They are not obliged to follow the committee and some countries are supporting Blatter, others bin Hammam,” Mr. Cisse said.
The Malian said the real issue at stake was the need to reform FIFA’s system of awarding World Cups as well as the way the wealthy organization’s finances are managed. Mr. Cisse suggested that FIFA’s general assembly be tasked with the awarding of World Cups rather than its 24-member executive committee. One third of Mr. Blatter’s committee stands accused of corruption or improper behavior in last December’s awarding process.
“If every country can vote on who hosts the event, that will cut down on corruption because you can't corrupt 203 federations,” Mr. Cisse said.
In an indication that Mr. Bin Hammam has yet to convince many that he is an agent of change, Mr. Cisse declined to say whether a change at the helm of FIFA was needed to ensure reform.
In contrast to Mr. Cisse, Liberian Football Association president Musa Bility said in a statement that he and other African federations would back Mr. Bin Hammam.
“My decision, along with Nigeria, Ghana and others to support the candidacy of Bin Hammam remains unwavering in spite of the CAF decision,” Mr. Bility said.
(James M. Dorsey is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org)