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Blatter faces serious challenge at last

The key question, however, is whether any of the “serious” candidates stand a chance of unseating Blatter

Published: Updated:

If anyone had doubts that football believes the time is right for change at FIFA, the roll call of people ready to unseat incumbent president Sepp Blatter should dispel them.

With the deadline to submit candidatures for the FIFA presidential election closing at 2300 GMT on Thursday, four men are optimistic of getting their names on the ballot paper for the vote in Zurich on May 29.

Blatter, the 78-year-old Swiss who has been president since 1998, will be bidding for a fifth term and, despite allegations of corruption which have dogged FIFA for years, he remains the overwhelming favorite to be re-elected.

But he is facing something he has not faced before because rather than having no opposition or just one opponent, he has challenges from across the world of football.

The first to declare his intentions a year ago was Frenchman Jerome Champagne, who was FIFA’s former deputy secretary general before leaving the organization in 2010.

Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan is currently on FIFA’s executive committee as Asian vice-president and, at 39, would become the second youngest president in FIFA’s 111-year history.

TIME TO GO

Michael van Praag, the 67-year-old president of the Dutch FA (KNVB), threw his hat into the ring saying it was time for Blatter to go.

Former Portugal winger Luis Figo is also in the running along with former France international David Ginola, although his candidature is nothing more than a publicity stunt for a bookmaking firm.

The key question, however, is whether any of the “serious” candidates stand a chance of unseating Blatter. “Everyone expects the small team to lose but sometimes they win,” Van Praag said.

It would take the soccer world to shift on its axis for that to happen in this election, but with so many candidates tilting the balance away from Blatter that possibility remains.

As long as they can officially enter the race, Prince Ali, Van Praag, Champagne and Figo will have four months to go around the world trying to persuade the heads of FIFA’s 209 member associations that the time has come for change.

REAL CHALLENGE

Not since 1974 when Brazilian Joao Havelange ousted England’s Stanley Rous as president after courting disaffected Asian and African countries and promising them more money and World Cup places, has the old order faced a real challenge.

Since Blatter replaced Havelange in 1998 when he beat Sweden’s Lennart Johansson in a head-to-head contest, Blatter has only been directly challenged once - when he saw off a lackluster campaign in 2002 from Issa Hayatou of Cameroon.

In 2007 no-one challenged him and in 2011 Mohammed Bin Hammam of Qatar quit after being accused of bribery and was subsequently banned from football for life.

FIFA has since endured a non-stop pounding following its decision in 2010 to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

Corruption allegations surrounding those votes led to Michael Garcia’s two-year-long inquiry into the voting process before he quit as FIFA’s chief investigator in December saying there was no credible leadership at the top.

However, the majority of the men and women who will vote at the election would seem to disagree with him. In 1998 Blatter beat Johansson by 111-80 votes and in 2002 he defeated Hayatou 139-56.

The margins could be similar this time as five of FIFA’s six confederations who met last year before the World Cup said they would be supporting Blatter’s campaign.

He has the backing of the majority of Africa’s 53 nations, at least half of Asia’s 47 members, Oceania’s 11, South America’s 10, at least half the 35 votes from North and Central America and the Caribbean and the majority of Eastern Europe.

Although that should be enough for him to win comfortably again, he cannot ignore the threat to his authority this time round.