Dear new FIFA president: What normal fans would like to see in the future
It still doesn't quite seem real that, starting Friday, the FIFA president will no longer be Sepp Blatter. But true it most certainly is, as five candidates enter the final week of lobbying ahead of the Feb. 26 vote.
The candidates are Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, current FIFA vice president and former presidential election opponent of Blatter; Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, president of the Asian Football Confederation; Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA executive who left in 2010 and challenged Blatter in 2014; Tokyo Sexwale, a South African businessman who has been part of various FIFA committees and was among the organizers of the 2010 World Cup; and Gianni Infantino, UEFA general secretary and star of countless Champions League draw ceremonies.
While "anyone but Sepp" might be welcome, the follow-up question is: Will any of the candidates be different enough? Or any different at all? Each man has made various promises during his campaign, but what will they do should they win? Moreover, what do we, the mere planet full of football fans, want them to do?
Here are a few things the new president, whoever he might be, should consider:
Don't make too many big promises
FIFA has been riddled with corruption, bribery and other forms of unpleasantness for a long time now. For so long, in fact, that the mess is so colossal and such a tangled collection of self-interest and endemic problems that it will take a lot longer than the few years of a presidential term to sort things out.
While the incoming president should do his best to clean up, let's be realistic: This is not something that needs a quick dusting and a wipe with a damp cloth. It will take years, if it's even possible to fully clean up the organization, so to make promises might sound good in a campaign speech but will almost inevitably lead to disappointment. Change is gradual, so it's best to be sensible about it from the start.
Bring in some independent governance
One of the biggest reasons for the corruption and assorted problems that have damaged FIFA's reputation was lack of oversight: Those at the top knew they weren't accountable to anyone and felt untouchable, so they basically did exactly as they pleased.
The Economist recently suggested that FIFA should become a public company listed in New York, so that the markets could provide some governance, which is an idea that has its own problems but would at least give the impression of someone keeping an eye on things. The structure of any independent oversight would be tricky, in order for it to be truly independent, but something needs to be worked out to regulate the most powerful at FIFA.
See if you can get out of that whole Qatar business
It is, admittedly, quite short notice in the wider scheme of things. With six years until the 2022 World Cup is due to begin in Qatar, it would take quite the effort to shift the hosting of an event so big. But a little organizational chaos would be a small price to pay to avoid hosting the tournament in a country with what we'll charitably call a "questionable" human rights record.
There are also some precedents: The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations was moved from Libya to Gabon with three years notice. In 1986, the World Cup was due to be held in Colombia, but they withdrew in 1982, and a year later, Mexico was given the tournament.
Don't let Blatter back in
One of the first things Gerald Ford did, upon assuming the presidency of the United States in 1974, was pardon Richard Nixon for the crimes that had led to Ford's taking office. The New York Times called that decision a "profoundly unwise, divisive and unjust act," and similar sentiments would apply to anyone who does anything similar for Blatter.
Both Blatter and Michel Platini are banned from all football activity for eight years, which means this won't be top of mind for the new man in charge, but to allow Blatter to take any sort of substantive role in the future governance of football would make a mockery of his misdemeanours and punishment.
Make ballots public
It's not a great sign of FIFA's embracing a new spirit of openness and accountability that the election for a new president will be a secret ballot. Some might publicize their favoured candidates -- the English FA, for example, have thrown their weight behind Infantino -- but they don't have to make their votes clear. Something similar happened with the voting for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; we have a pretty good idea who voted for Russia and Qatar, but it wasn't made public at the time, which gives rise to suspicion.
It wouldn't take much to simply say that all voting must be made public. Plus, there's plenty for FIFA to gain, in terms of public image and a degree of accountability, and not a lot to lose. Why not make an event of it? Football's governing body loves its galas and special presentations, so get a stage, get a few former players in tuxedos, hire an eccentric dance troupe, and do the vote that way. Then publish a list of the voters' choices afterward. Sell tickets if you like.
Can we all have a look around FIFA HQ?
That big, shiny building in Zurich looks absolutely lovely. There's probably ample seating, well-appointed bathrooms and big conference room that look like something out of Dr. Strangelove. Why should FIFA suits be the only ones to benefit? How about having an open day so we can all enjoy it?
You could run it as a raffle. Everyone who goes to a live game goes into a draw, and, say, 100 winners get to have a nose around the complex the following Friday. They get a look around and lunch, as well as five minutes to sit in the president's big chair while holding the World Cup. It would be a bit like a tour around Willy Wonka's factory and would really show that FIFA is an organisation of the people, in touch with the common fan.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.