World Football in Focus - Warner the Kingmaker in FIFA Presidency Battle

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(WFI) Controversial CONCACAF president Jack Warner has emerged as the key powerbroker in the battle to win the FIFA presidency.

CONCACAF president Jack Warner will control as many as 35 votes in the FIFA presidential election. (Getty Images)
Warner controls 35 of the 208 federations who will decide the next FIFA president at its congress in Zurich in June, and sources with knowledge of FIFA politics have indicated that he is the key figure in the electoral race. CONCACAF have indicated this week that they will likely vote as a bloc.

A candidate needs 105 federation votes in order to win the FIFA presidency. AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam and journalist Grant Wahl have emerged as challengers to Blatter, although Wahl is still to get the backing of a federation.

This morning in Kuala Lumpur Bin Hammam laid out his electoral manifesto. While there were some flourishes to appease those who think too much power rests in the hands of the executive committee and for the smaller, impoverished federations that make up Blatter’s power base, its most striking aspects were the powers he pledges to give confederations.

“I will decentralise the activities of the FIFA administration. The legal matters, like the statutes and international transfers, and statutory issues can be handled directly by the confederations under the supervision of their executive bodies,” said Bin Hammam.

He added: “I will establish an Executive Office. The President of FIFA will be the Chairman and the six presidents of the six confederations will be the members of this office. This office will be responsible to execute the decision of the Board [an expanded Exco]. Collectively and jointly, the President of FIFA and the Presidents of the confederations will be responsible for executing the decisions of the FIFA Board.”

In a nutshell, Bin Hammam proposes giving huge amounts of FIFA power to confederation heads. The plan, according to one FIFA insider, is “to appeal to the vanity of confederation heads, such as Warner.”

In challenging Blatter, Bin Hammam’s great problem is that he lacks a strong powerbase. In January in Doha, I watched as he supported one of world football’s strongmen – Chung Mung-joon – in his own confederation’s congress. Dr Chung was bidding for re-election as a FIFA vice president, but despite Bin Hammam’s backing lost to Jordan’s Prince Ali. Ali’s supporters then bragged about how they would also support Blatter in June’s presidential election.

The next day, Sepp Blatter told myself and fellow reporters at a briefing that we should “draw our own conclusions” about a man who could not even control his own confederation. The inference was that he would stand no chance when taking on the rest of the world if he couldn’t win in Asia.

Last week, over tea in Ramallah’s Movenpick Hotel, Bin Hammam told me that he had support across all confederations. When I reminded him about Doha, he shrugged his shoulders and said that he believed he would have enough votes to win against Blatter.

The maths tell us that CONCACAF would be the essential factor in any such victory. Bin Hammam will carry around 30 votes from the AFC and may grab another 10 or 15 from each of Blatter’s strongholds in Africa and Europe. That leaves CONMEBOL and Oceania, which are both small confederations that he may only dent.

His best hope then is to seize CONCACAF’s bloc of 35 votes, which would put him within touching distance of Blatter. This may give him momentum – which may ultimately prove irresistible when voting comes about – to carry floating voters in Europe and Africa too.

“He’s not really offering anything new to the federations, but there is a lot there that will please the confederations,” said one source.

“FIFA has already been successful in decentralizing some of its operations and this progresses that process.

“It all depends on whether someone like Jack Warner will find it enticing.”

A telling omission from today’s manifesto was the absence of a maximum presidential term, which Bin Hammam has instituted at the AFC and previously spoken of the need for with FIFA.

This may temper backing from Europe, where UEFA president Michel Platini is seen as Blatter’s successor-elect in four years time. Only three men have led FIFA in the last half-century and having seen FIFA’s power slip from its orbit to Africa, CONCACAF and Asia in the last two decades, Europe won’t want to see further erosion in power if a non-European is in charge for the long-haul.

Twelve weeks still stand before the FIFA presidential election and a fortnight before nominations close. Much rests in the balance and it would be foolish to write anything or anyone off. The odds of British bookmaker William Hill – 9/4 Bin Hammam; 1/3 Blatter – will definitely shift plenty of times before then.

The only other certainty is about the conduct of the bid race. Blatter has already shown his preparedness to get his hands dirty, with a visit to the internationally reviled military dictatorship in Burma this week. Some of the more disreputable characters who circulate around FIFA’s fringes have also started to crawl out from under their stones. Things will get dirtier. As one pundit tweeted this week: “There will be blood!”

Week in Review

- Major League Soccer kicked off its season on Tuesday when the LA Galaxy beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0. The other 16 teams will make their 2011 debuts over the weekend.

- Australian State Minister Craig Wallace called for his federal government to investigate the finances of Australian football, accusing the country's FA of “moving the goalposts” when deciding the fate of North Queensland Fury.

- The African Football Confederation stripped Libya of hosting rights to the African Youth Championship in light of the civil strife now ravaging the north African country. South Africa will now host the FIFA U-20 World Cup qualifier from April 17 to May 2. Libya’s participation in an impending Olympic qualifier against South Africa is also up in the air.

- FIFA president Sepp Blatter threatened to suspend the Indonesian FA (PSSI) if they do not get their “house in order,” his clearest signal yet that disgraced PSSI president Nurdin Halid will not be allowed to stand for re-election next month.

- The Japan Football Association announced its national team will face top J.League players later this month in a charity match to benefit the areas hardest hit by last Friday’s quake.
From INSIDER’s James Corbett

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