THE fight to remove Sepp Blatter from the most powerful job in world soccer intensified in Europe yesterday.
In a surprise entry for the Fifa presidential contest, Portuguese great Luis Figo – the 2001 world player of the year – claimed the required support of five national federations by today’s entry deadline.
The Scottish Football Association also confirmed it will be one of the five national associations that will nominate Dutch FA president Michael van Praag, a fierce critic of Blatter. An SFA spokesman said: “We can confirm that the Scottish FA are one of the five associations nominating Mr Van Praag.”
Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein is expected to be nominated by the English Football Association. Van Praag launched his campaign in Amsterdam last night, promising to modernise Fifa, expand the World Cup with more places for non-European countries and give Blatter an advisory role.
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“Fifa is doing badly and has lost all credibility,” said Van Praag, who famously told Blatter last year in Brazil that people no longer took him seriously. “Fifa is constantly under suspicion. Of conflicts of interest, of nepotism, of corruption.” Dutchman Van Praag, 67, said he had no animosity toward Blatter but that it was time for him to step down.
“Someone who has led an organisation for so many years and who has become the personification of its poor image can no longer be the face of a modernisation operation or of a ‘new Fifa’.”
Two more possible candidates from France, former Fifa official and longtime Blatter ally Jerome Champagne and former player David Ginola, will seek to file nominations by tonight’s deadline. Still, Blatter is strongly favoured to win the 29 May vote by the 209 Fifa member federations, despite bribery and financial scandals which implicated several of his executive committee colleagues. He is as low as 1-16 to win with bookmakers.
Football leaders worldwide have shown little desire for change during Blatter’s 17-year reign, overseeing spectacular commercial success for the World Cup. Fifa has cash reserves of $1.5 billion and distributes bonuses to members.
Figo has little experience of sports administration but said a mood for change exists. “I look at the reputation of Fifa right now and I don’t like it. Football deserves better,” the former Barcelona and Real Madrid playmaker said without giving detailed campaign plans.
“I have seen the image of Fifa deteriorate and as I speak to many people in football – to players, managers and association presidents – so many of those people have told me that something has to be done,” the 42-year-old Portuguese said.
Figo’s entry into the race means Uefa members could end up being split between him and Van Praag. Uefa is the only one of Fifa’s six continental bodies actively opposing Blatter.
Figo was Uefa’s ambassador for the Champions League final in Lisbon last year and Van Praag is an elected member of Uefa’s executive board which met on Monday. That’s when Van Praag announced his bid, saying he was running because no “credible challenger” had emerged.
The former president of four-times European Cup winner Ajax is the first contender to reveal his nominees: along with Scotland, he was backed by Belgium, the Faroes, Romania, plus his native Netherlands.
The need for a European candidate was created last August when Uefa president Michel Platini opted not to stand against Blatter, while encouraging rivals for his 78-year-old former mentor. Platini’s spokesman Pedro Pinto welcomed Figo’s entry.
“It is good for Fifa and it is good for football to have valid candidates with extensive experience in the sport and from different parts of the world,” Pinto said.
Platini has also supported Prince Ali’s candidacy. Ginola’s bid is taken less seriously as he’s being paid by a bookmaker to run. Fifa ethics rules forbid officials having links to “betting, gambling, lotteries and similar events or transactions connected with football matches”.
The winning candidate needs two-thirds of the votes for victory in a first round of secret voting in Zurich, or a simple majority in subsequent rounds.