FIFA staff have been cautioned by Jerome Valcke to steer clear of any risk of entanglement in the forthcoming presidential election as they go about their day-to-day duties.
The challenge has arisen because Sepp Blatter, president of the world football federation since 1998, is a declared candidate for the election at FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29.
Opposing him are three European-backed candidates in FIFA’s Asian vice-president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, Dutch federation president Michael Van Praag and Portugal’s former World Player of the Year Luis Figo.
Back in 1998, when then-chief executive Blatter stood for the first time he was forced out of his FIFA office suite by pressure from UEFA delegates to the world federation’s executive committee; they were supporting the candidacy of their own president, Sweden’s Lennart Johansson.
Concerns about the conduct of presidential elections were ramped up four years ago after the power bid by Mohamed bin Hammam. Ultimately the Qatari, after complaining that Blatter had taken advantage of his incumbency, was forced out of the race by votes-for-cash allegations.
Last year Domenico Scala, the Swiss businessman who is independent chairman of the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee, decided it was a nonsense that no written rules existed governing presidential elections.
He and the then-ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia drew up rules and regulations which led to the creation of an ad hoc electoral committee. Subsequently Scala withdrew from the chairmanship to avoid conflict of interest concerns because he is Swiss, like Blatter. Heading the commitee now is Larry Mussenden.
The Bermuda lawyer has been president of his local football association since 2010 and played a key role in lifting the lid on the Bin Hammam/Warner scandal in 2011.
Mussenden’s role is testing. Monitoring the FIFA election conduct of the three ‘outside’ candidates is less difficult than being able to assure both himself and them about how Blatter manages the delicate balance of leading the world game while also being a candidate to his own succession.
Thus far Blatter is the only candidate not to have named the associations which nominated him for the election and whose campaign support is not clear. This contrasts with his opponents albeit, oddly to outsiders, both Prince Ali and Figo are advised by marketing expert Mike Lee’s Vero Communications.
FIFA staff have been left in no doubt about the expectation that they must concentrate only on their work for the world federation and do not allow themselves, accidentally, to be drawn into election issues.
Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general, laid down the law as soon as the identity of the four candidates was confirmed early this month.
Mussenden said: “On the day of the formal confirmation of the candidates, the FIFA secretary-general reminded all FIFA staff members that they, consultants or any other persons appointed by or working for FIFA are not permitted to take part in any way in these election campaigns.”
Setting out the precise parameters for Blatter and his rivals, Mussenden explained: “Candidates who hold positions within association football are permitted to remain in office during their election campaign. All candidates are bound by the FIFA Code of Ethics.
“The ad-hoc electoral committee is supervising the electoral process, including the campaigns and activities of the admitted and declared candidates, to ensure the correct application of the FIFA Statutes, regulations and provisions.
“As you will be aware, all four candidates hold official positions within association football. To prevent conflicts of interest, they must ensure they do not mix any campaigning with the official activities they carry out.”
The tease with Blatter is that, while he is fulfilling the role of president, everyone around him, watching him, listening to him, knows that he is a candidate.