ISLAMABAD/MEXICO CITY – For soccer chiefs in the developing world, a German proposal to change the one country, one vote system within the sport’s ruling body FIFA would not only be undemocratic, but also deal a major blow to nations struggling to develop the game at home. The views of officials in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean reflect a broad backlash against proposed reforms put forward by Germany this week to give soccer power-houses a greater say in who runs FIFA as it grapples with allegations of bribery.
Outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter ruled the powerful body for 17 years, aided by votes from less prominent soccer nations that received development funds aimed at promoting the sport. In a May election, he won 133 votes from 209 member associations, easily beating his only rival despite the disclosure of U.S. indictments on corruption charges of a number of past and present FIFA officials. Blatter resigned a few days later as U.S. and Swiss investigations into corruption within FIFA widened.
“If tomorrow one member association is going to be more equal than the other, then of course that is going to raise serious issues, and that would not be good for world football and that would not be good for FIFA,” said Pakistan soccer chief Faisal Saleh Hayat. “First and foremost is the basic principal of equality,” the president of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) told Reuters in an interview in Islamabad.
Hayat, who like most Asian member countries supported Blatter last month, was unapologetic, saying that without his and FIFA’s backing, Pakistan would not have received the financial support it has over the last decade or so.
Those views were echoed by Football Kenya Federation vice president, Robert Asembo. “Africa always vote for the candidate with the best development plan for the continent,” he said. Zimbabwe Football Association spokesman Xolisani Gwesela said it would be unfair for countries in Africa and the developing world not to have the same vote as Germany or England.
“I do not think my association will ever vote for something that celebrates inequality,” he said. Similar views could be heard in the Caribbean and Latin America. Raymond Tim Kee, head of the Trinidad and Tobago Soccer Federation that indicted soccer official Jack Warner once controlled, said: “Big nations will trample on small countries like us in the Caribbean. No, we will vociferously protest against this.”
Jacinto Reyes, President of the Nicaragua Football Federation, said football was a sport for everyone. “I don’t think that the United States’ or Germany’s or England’s vote should be worth more than Nicaragua’s or others in Central America – than the poor countries. “I am totally against this attitude because we have always spoken about racial discrimination and this idea is also discrimination.”
The President of the Honduras Soccer Federation, Rafael Callejas, said it was important to spread the World Cup around between regions. Calling for the finals to be held in his part of the world in 2026, he said: The thing that worries us most is that it will all be in Europe – the best football in the world is in Europe and they are the ones with the most money, so all the World Cups will be in Europe. That doesn’t seem fair to me.”
The views from so-called soccer “minnows” reflect a rift within FIFA that has deepened since U.S. and Swiss authorities announced their investigations. Blatter’s opponents, mainly in Europe, want him to step down immediately and believe he has allowed the game to be tarnished by failing to tackle the suspicion that votes for lucrative tournaments and staff positions can effectively be bought.
Others in Asia, Africa and beyond, who jointly account for more than half of the 209 votes, argue FIFA has an obligation to develop soccer in countries where it does not bring in huge amounts of money and has little grass roots support.
Some also say that objections to Blatter, and proposals to change FIFA’s voting system, may be “sour grapes” on the part of countries who did not want Qatar to win the 2022 World Cup.
The FBI are investigating bribery and corruption at FIFA, including scrutiny of how it awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia for 2018, and Qatar for 2022. “The perception which has arisen now is that Europe, or at least part of Europe, is on one side and the vast majority of playing nations are on the other side and this is not what football is for,” Hayat said.
Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA presidential candidate, said the concept of one country, one vote within the organisation was often over-simplified. “People point the finger at Cayman Islands and Montserrat, but first they have the right, (and) secondly they had one position in all FIFA structures while Germany have seven or eight members on all the various committees,” he told Reuters. “With what would we replace it? Democracy is not a perfect system, but the guy who can find another one should give me a call.”