FIFA leaders return to Zurich, ready to pick election date
GENEVA: FIFA leaders this weekend return to the scene of a criminal investigation which sent football's governing body into crisis eight weeks ago.
On Monday in Zurich, the FIFA executive committee should pick an election date to choose a successor for Sepp Blatter, president for 17 years. FIFA has been dogged by allegations of corruption for much of Blatter's time at the top of world football.
It is the committee's first meeting since the newly re-elected Blatter announced on June 2 that he would leave office within months, under pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of bribery and corruption in the award of broadcasting and hosting rights for international competitions.
Some around the executive table want Blatter gone sooner — ideally on Monday.
Still, Blatter wants to hang on and shape overdue reforms of FIFA now being demanded even by long-loyal World Cup sponsor Coca-Cola.
Here are some issues in play before Blatter's scheduled news conference on Monday afternoon at FIFA headquarters:
Will Swiss police intervene again and arrest or question members of the FIFA executive committee and their international entourages?
At least one FIFA official will be absent.
Marco Polo Del Nero, Brazil's delegate and president of its football confederation, has told FIFA he needs to stay at home. On May 28, he unexpectedly left Zurich one day after the arrest of seven football and marketing officials in dawn raids at a luxury Zurich hotel. He missed the FIFA congress that re-elected Blatter a day later.
In the separate Swiss case, some of the 10 FIFA voters in the 2018-2022 World Cup bid contests who Swiss prosecutors said in May are expected to be interviewed.
One of the 10 voters, FIFA senior vice president Issa Hayatou, returned to his native Cameroon after the congress saying that no Swiss police had approached him during his stay.
The Confederation of African Football told The Associated Press this week that there has been "no request done by Swiss police so far" to arrange meetings this time in Zurich.
CAF said its FIFA delegates will "always be available to speak, be it to Swiss police or other investigative authority within FIFA or outside."
The Swiss Attorney General's office declined to give details to the AP on Friday of planned activity around Monday's executive session.
It is unclear how much progress American and Swiss investigators have made since May 27.
Just two of the 14 men indicted in May — suspended FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Traffics Sports USA president Aaron Davidson — are in the United States, and Webb was extradited only on Wednesday.
Swiss prosecutors are sifting through massive amounts of data seized from FIFA plus 81 "suspicious acts" of possible money laundering reported by banks in Switzerland.
BLATTER'S LAST STAND?
The FIFA president wants to stay for a few more months but could a UEFA-driven move to oust him succeed on Monday?
While UEFA and its president Michel Platini will not publicly discuss strategy, it is no secret that some senior European officials want Blatter gone quickly. They may have support in other continents.
FIFA rules require that Hayatou — hardly a modernizer — would step up as interim president until the election.
If UEFA can't oust Blatter, it certainly wants an early election.
A four-month campaign after the deadline for applications is required by FIFA rules that were passed in Blatter's previous presidential term.
Would-be candidates also need time to gather nominations from five of the 209 FIFA member associations.
UEFA has briefed for a Dec. 16 ballot, though that clashes with the Club World Cup played Dec. 10-20 in Japan.
Blatter suggested February more likely, giving him a few extra weeks.
One logical option is after the Ballon d'Or ceremony on Jan. 12, which already brings FIFA's hierarchy and international media to Zurich where the election should be held.
Asked by the AP this week about their preferred option, FIFA's six confederations either did not respond or did not state one.
Anyone who has already declared their intent is probably not a serious player.
Former Brazil great Zico and Liberia football federation president Musa Bility said they will seek nominations. Diego Maradona's apparent interest was an attention-grabbing headline but only that.
Platini is the obvious favorite and Africa's plans should be clearer after Hayatou chairs a scheduled CAF executive meeting on Aug. 6 in Cairo.
The recent FIFA rule that would-be candidates must have an active role in football for two of the past five years excludes outsiders.
It could even bar Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, the ambitious Olympic power broker who joined FIFA's executive committee in May.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan has kept a low-key silence since getting 73 votes in his defeat to Blatter on May 29.
CONTROL THE FUTURE
Monday's meeting should also set an agenda for the election congress.
Blatter wants this to include a slate of reforms detailed in his June 2 speech: Term limits, vetting officials for integrity, publish salaries and bonuses. He later added increasing the size of the executive committee.
The FIFA leader would devote his last few months to leaving a better legacy, working alongside Domenico Scala, FIFA's audit and compliance panel chairman and election monitor.
An obvious question: Why should the man who presided over such a tarnished organization be allowed to shape its recovery?
On Friday, one of FIFA's most significant sponsors, Coca-Cola, finally spoke out against Blatter.
It called for "eminent, impartial leaders" to lead reform, following a similar plea by Transparency International.
The name of Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general from Ghana and a noted football fan, is increasingly raised.
Monday's meeting and debate could be shaped by a meeting of Blatter with the six continental confederation presidents at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Sunday.
It was on May 28 with this group that Platini took Blatter aside and urged him to go immediately.
Blatter refused, was re-elected and is still there.