Just two days remain for one of the world’s 208 soccer federations to take a risk for the fans and nominate Grant Wahl to run for the president of FIFA.
Wahl, a soccer writer for Sports Illustrated, has waged a one-man campaign to clean up the world’s soccer governing body that operates under a perpetual cloud of controversy.
Just two more days for one federation to strike a blow at corruption that lingers over FIFA and president Sepp Blatter like a bad smell.
Just two more days to nominate someone who is serious about reforming one of the most dysfunctional organizations in the world — one that has immeasurable influence over the world’s most popular game and one where its questionable actions turn the beautiful into the ugly.
But so far, no federation, including the United States Soccer Federation, is willing to stick its neck out. It seems everyone lives in fear of Blatter. After all, Blatter, 74, is running for his fourth term and has never faced an opponent until now. That tells you something. He remains a 21st century anachronism — a veritable strongman who shares more in common with 20th century despots and 13th century kings.
“I do not have a nomination yet,” Wahl told Sportspress Northwest on Tuesday. “Its been frustrating. There is a lot of fear out there. Nobody wants to upset Blatter.”
Indeed. Wahl has crisscrossed continents and lobbied more than 150 of the soccer federations. He recently traveled to Paris to attend the UEFA Congress — the second most powerful soccer governing body – to lobby federations and persuade just one to nominate him as a reform candidate.
He has received quiet support behind the scenes. People high in the soccer stratosphere have wished him well, even profoundly agree that FIFA needs as massive makeover, a complete housecleaning. Even England, which was humiliated by Blatter and FIFA for the 2018 World Cup bid and which now has nothing to lose in nominating Wahl, cowers in front of the Swiss despot.
And so, as the clock ticks, there are still no takers, Wahl said, but “I’ll be hopeful until the deadline hits.”
Wahl has acknowledged that he is a maverick candidate, with little chance of actually winning. But he also argues that he has pursued a serious campaign to clean up the organization, to shed light into the dark crevices of a good ‘ol boy network that has been caught trading votes for dollars, among many questionable actions.
As Wahl wrote in his campaign pledge: “The vote in December that chose the hosts for the 2018 and ’22 World Cups was just the latest evidence that FIFA is far from a clean organization. Two members of FIFA’s executive committee were suspended last October after being caught by The Sunday Times of London trying to sell their World Cup votes. Why, Blatter himself admits that FIFA’s reputation has been tarnished under his watch. Sepp’s solution? “Trust us,” he says. Seriously? That’s like trusting a Tour de France winner to oversee cycling’s antidoping program.”
What would Wahl, the candidate, actually do if elected president?
- Instant replay. He’ll insist there’s a video-review process for close calls on the goal line.
- Referees. He’ll make sure the World Cup has the best whistle-blowerswith no limits per countryand require them to meet with reporters after every game to explain controversial calls.
- Transparency. He’ll clean up FIFA the only way possible: releasing all of its internal documents, WikiLeaks-style, and commissioning an independent investigation using the guidelines of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
- Women. He’ll name a woman as general secretary, FIFA’s most powerful appointed position and make a priority to include more women in positions of influence, such as putting women on FIFA’s ruling 24-man executive committee that is currently all men.
Wahl’s campaign has helped to spawn other reform candidates. Elias Figueroa, the Chilean soccer legend, has announced he is seeking a nomination and is backed by the ChangeFIFA movement. Even Blatter — starting to feel the heat — told the UEFA Congress that if re-elected he would step down in 2015.
But that’s not good enough. Blatter needs to step down now. That’s why we need someone to continue to press the reform agenda and force Blatter to confront it head-on — even if Wahl or Figueroa lose the election.
Unless Wahl or Figueroa are nominated by a national federation, Blatter’s only opponent in the June 1 elections will be Asian football chief and Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam — another insider. The deadline for nominations is Friday.
In a statement on March 29, the ChangeFIFA group said Figueroa should be nominated “so that every member of the football family with a positive future vision has a fair chance to offer it before the football community.”
But as Wahl noted, Figueroa can’t even persuade the Chilean federation to support his candidacy. “They cant even get support for the best player in Chiles history,” Wahl said.
It’s distressingly clear that Blatter seems to be getting his way. His tentacles have clearly wrapped tightly around the federations. Most of them either feel trapped or feel perfectly comfortable with the way things are.
“Its a system every step of the way designed to award people currently in power and reward the insiders,” Wahl said. “Its not designed to reward fans. If the worlds fans were allowed to vote, wed win in a landslide.”
Let’s hope that one of 208 soccer federations has the guts to stick up for what’s right, for what’s fair and for what’s best for the world’s game. After all, Wahl couldn’t make it any worse.