Can a new campaign group transform football's governing body?
His Royal Highness Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan sends his apologies but he will be unable to attend this week’s Brussels debate about reform of world footall federation FIFA.
Prince Ali had been invited to attend because of his declared intentional to challenge incumbent Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency. However he is also president of the Football Association of Jordan who have been competing at the AFC Asian Cup in Australia and it is understood he has other travel priorities this week.
As current Asian vice-president of FIFA Prince Ali is the most credible electoral rival to Blatter since the European federation UEFA supported African football leader Issa Hayatou in 2002. Even so, the 78-year-old Swiss remains overwhelming favourite to secure a fifth term at FIFA Congess in Zurich in May.
The other declared candidates are former FIFA official Jerome Champagne and ex-France star David Ginola though the latter’s ‘campaign’, bankrolled by a betting company, is not expected to survive the rigours of the nomination test by the January 29 deadline.
Prince Ali may be relieved, privately, that other demands on his time keep him away from Brussels on Wednesday.
There will be no votes to win among critical outsiders while such as association might even antagonise international federation officials still weighing up how to cast their votes in May.
The Brussels ‘summit’ has been organised under the banner of New FIFA Now by a group of British and European politicians led by Euro MEPS Ivo Belet from Belgium (Christian Democrat) and Emma McClarkin from Britain (Conservative) and British MP Damian Collins (Conservative).
Collins is a long-time critic of the Blatter administration and a FIFA track record of scandal from the ISL bribes case to the cash-for-votes issues surrounding both the 2011 presidential election and the World Cup awards to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).
The purpose of the Brussels debate, according to Collins, “is to discuss the mechanisms for how change can happen.” He added: “Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we are in this for as long as it takes.
Champage will be one speaker along with Chilean Harold Mayne-Nicholls who led the technical inspections in the 2018-2022 World Cup bid process and has been considering whether to stand for FIFA president himself.
Two bid losers will also be taking part. Lord David Triesman headed the England 2018 bid and the Football Association until being forced to step down by a newspaper ‘sting’ and Bonita Mersiades was a senior communications executive during the early stages of Australia’s 2022 effort.
A statement from New FIFA Now said that Jaimie Fuller, Swiss-based Australian chairman of the sportswear company SKINS, “will bring a commercial perspective to proceedings on the importance of mobilising sponsors, fans and consumers to the campaign.”
The issue of sports governance within European law will be addressed by a panel including Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, co-president of the Sports Intergroup of the European Parliament; Hungarian Szabolcs Horvath from the Cabinet of the European Commissioner for Sport; and George Paterson from the Sports Unit of the Director-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission.
Switzerland, in which FIFA has its headquarters, is not a member of the European Union.
Collins, insisting fundamental reform of FIFA is essential regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, will present a preliminary charter as the basis for reform.
He said: “This is not about shifting deck chairs on the executive committee of FIFA. Our agenda is for real change in a new style of organisation and with a new style of governance consistent with FIFA’s privileged position as custodians of the biggest sport in the world.
“Last year, the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of something many people said would ‘never’ happen – the fall of the Berlin Wall. 16 years ago, people said the Olympic movement could never get past its corruption scandals. Two years ago, people said that world cycling could not be cleaned-up.
“History shows that change can and does happen, even in seemingly impenetrable circumstances.
“Wednesday’s meeting is the first step in helping to see football governed by people who make decisions and take action in a transparent manner and who are held accountable in the best interests of the sport and civil society.”