This article briefly examines the rules and regulations that have been put in place for the upcoming FIFA presidential election. In particular, the article focuses on the FIFA Statutes April 2015 (the “FIFA Statutes”) and the Electoral Regulations for the FIFA Presidency (“Electoral Regulations”) along with the applicable standing orders of FIFA’s legislative body, the FIFA Congress - all of which together determine the procedure for the election as well as the criteria which candidates must satisfy to be eligible to stand.
The FIFA Executive Committee is responsible for calling elections for FIFA President. It then delegates the supervision and administration of the election to a specific committee set up for this purpose, called the Ad-Hoc Electoral Committee. On 21 July 2015, FIFA distributed a ‘call for elections’ which confirmed that for this round the election will take place on 26 February 2016.
The calendar and format for the election are as follows:
20 July 2015 – The electoral period formally starts which permits candidates to begin campaigning and canvassing votes.
26 October 2015 – Deadline for submission of candidates. Any football association recognised by FIFA (a “Member Association”) may propose a candidate for the office of FIFA President but the candidature will only be valid if supported by at least five Member Associations. A Member Association may only present a declaration of support for one person (supporting more than one candidate invalidates all declarations).
Candidates who hold positions within football are permitted to remain in their current office during the campaign but, as discussed below, are now subject to the FIFA Code of Ethics (the “Ethics Code”) so should, amongst other things, avoid conflicts of interest.
26 January 2016 – Deadline for notifying Member Associations of the names of the proposed and admitted candidates. These are the candidates who have been successfully assessed by the Ad-Hoc Electoral Committee as meeting the eligibility criteria set out below.
26 February 2016 – Election day. On the day candidates are given one last 15 minute opportunity to state their case. Votes are cast in a secret ballot and each Member Association has one vote. The four associations in the UK are all considered separate and independent so each can cast one vote.
The drafting of the Electoral Regulations is not terribly clear but it seems the intention is for the election to proceed in stages: in the first ballot a candidate requires a two-thirds majority to be successful (although if there is only one candidate, a simple majority will be sufficient).
If no candidate receives a two-thirds majority, a second ballot (and if necessary further ballots) will take place in which a simple majority will be sufficient. If there are more than two candidates, whoever obtains the lowest number of votes is eliminated from the second and subsequent ballots until one candidate obtains the requisite majority.
A candidate must have played an active role in football for two of the last five years before being proposed as a candidate. An ‘active role’ can be as a player, board member, committee member, referee/ assistant referee, coach, trainer and any other person responsible for technical, medical or administrative matters in FIFA, a Confederation, Member Association, league or club.
There is a slight discrepancy between how the FIFA Statutes and Electoral Regulations treat what is considered an active role. The former gives the above list as examples, suggesting it is a non-exhaustive list, but the latter suggests it is exhaustive.
This raises the possibility that someone who does not meet the strict criteria in the Electoral Regulations could perhaps argue that they have been active in football in other ways, for example through politics or even commentary or punditry.
In the event that the Ad-Hoc Committee considers a candidate to not have played a sufficiently active role, the candidate may dispute this before the Court of Arbitration for Sport to seek their determination of the matter (rather unusually there is no internal appeals process).
However, in the current climate the likelihood of a challenge appears low as if a candidate is not sufficiently within the football family to have clearly played an active role; they most probably will find it difficult to have obtained the support of five Member Associations.
Along with playing an active role in football and being proposed by five Member Associations, each candidate must also pass an ‘integrity check’. As part of this process, candidates must submit a declaration of integrity to the investigatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, which serves as the basis for the integrity check.
A candidate must not only declare that he or she has not been convicted of any intentional indictable offence and disclose any potential conflicts of interest, but also that he or she complies with the Ethics Code and has no convictions, and has received no sanctions from sports governing bodies for certain offences listed in the Ethics Code.
This means that to be an eligible candidate for the FIFA presidency, an individual must comply with and not commit or have committed any breaches of Part II, section 5 of the Ethics Code. This part of the Code contains general rules of conduct for persons bound by the Code as well as specific offences, such as being associated with any gambling activities in connection with football matches.
The Ethics Code also forbids candidates from any activity which amounts to, or could give rise to the suspicion of, “improper conduct”. This includes accepting gifts which create undue advantage or conflicts of interest, giving or accepting any form of bribe and accepting commission for negotiating deals of any kind whilst performing their duties (unless the commission has been otherwise approved).
At first glance the requirements to have played an active role in football and be proposed by five of the 209 Member Associations are relatively straightforward hurdles to overcome which should lead to wide variety of candidates – clearly this has not been the case in recent elections.
For the 2015 election, Sepp Blatter, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Luís Figo and Michael van Praag received the necessary support and the Ad-hoc Electoral Committee approved their eligibility to stand. Judging from media reports at the time it looks as if Jerome Champagne was unable to secure the required five supporting votes.
This time around only Michel Platini, South Korea's Chung Mong-joon, Liberia’s Musa Bility and Brazil legend Zico have formally declared their candidacy. However, there are rumours that numerous others including Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Luis Figo, Cameroon's Issa Hayatou and Diego Maradona will run.
Interestingly, there is a requirement in the Electoral Regulations that “If a person engages in campaign or similar activities that give the appearance that he is a candidate, the Ad-hoc Electoral Committee … shall give him a deadline of ten days to formally state, in writing, his intention of becoming a candidate.”
Certainly some of the latter group noted above have given the appearance of running (or the press certainly think they have) but it will be interesting to see if the Ad-Hoc Committee enforces this provision and formally asks them to state their intentions along with how the Ad-Hoc Committee intends to claim jurisdiction over candidates not currently bound by the FIFA Statutes.
One overriding theme with the likely candidates is that they are all very much from within the football family. The requirement to have played an active role in football effectively rules out business leaders who, whilst not perhaps having specific football experience, may have extensive expertise in corporate governance and implementing root and branch reforms.
It also rules out candidates from other sports who may have a great deal of value to add. Many observers may consider that such an experienced outsider, whether from another sport or the world of business, would be best suited to spearhead reform of the people’s game.
One final point to note is that the procedure and eligibility process noted above is relatively new – it was not used in 2011 when Sepp Blatter was voted in for his fourth term in office. The 2010 FIFA Statutes applied for this election (and its 2011 and 2012 versions) only referred to proposal by ‘members’ (rather than five Member Associations).
Candidates were not expressly required to have played an active role in football nor did these Statutes include references to compliance with Electoral Regulations or supervision by a separate committee.
In this way the process put in place for the 2015 and upcoming election represents an attempt by FIFA to improve its governance through greater transparency in the electoral process, however most would agree there is some way to go particularly while the voting process (by way of secret ballot) remains opaque.