The recent reshuffle within the corridors of power at the South American confederation, Conmebol, following the death of its FIFA vice-president Julio Grondona, made for interesting reading. Not so much because of the personnel involved but because of the political structure that was put in place with regard to FIFA representation.
Cast your mind back to earlier this summer when Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who runs football in Asia, firmed up his power base by winning his battle to combine the roles of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president and FIFA vice-president.
Sheikh Salman, with the crucial support of the Kuwait’s influential Olympic kingmaker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah, somehow managed to get virtually the entire Asian membership to support a proposal to change the AFC’s statutes. It means that, from next May, the AFC president will automatically hold the FIFA vice-presidency too.
The fall guy was the committed reformist Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan who himself had ousted South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon as Asia’s FIFA vice-president in January 2011. Will Prince Ali now go for an exco place next year in order to maintain a strong presence within FIFA? Or will he go a step further and take on Salman for the AFC presidency?
Salman had insisted all along that his move against Prince Ali was nothing personal but simply a logical step to streamline the various responsibilities within Asian football. He described the decision at the time as “an important decision in the spirit of the AFC’s long-held tradition of democracy.”
Yet take a look at what Conmebol has just done. You might have thought, after the recent death of Grondona, that the south American confederation would follow suit so that all six confederations operated in the same fashion. Far from it.
Just like Asia before its recent vote change, Conmebol’s president had always been kept separate from FIFA vice-presidency, two separate posts held by two different people. In that respect nothing has changed. Except now the South Americans have moved even further away from that model.
Let me explain. Paraguayan federation president Juan Angel Napout is the new head of Conmebol. He succeeds the Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo who temporarily took over the leadership following the retirement in April last year of the scandal-tainted Nicolas Leoz.
As part of the same reshuffle, Figueredo has instead stepped into the FIFA VP role previously held by Grondona. Perfectly logical. But here’s the rub. Conmebol has three FIFA exco members but Napout isn’t one of them. Which means that an entire confederation’s number one administrator has no FIFA role whatsoever.
Perhaps the statutes or personnel will change when Conmebol elections next take place but one wonders what FIFA president Sepp Blatter makes of it all. Blatter, after all, is understood to have supported Salman’s efforts to merge his and prince Ali’s roles in Asia, bringing the two positions under the same roof. Surely he would then condone the same thing happening within Conmebol?
Instead Conmebol has gone against the tide, the smallest of all the confederations – in number of member nations as distinct from power and influence – divvying up responsibilities to virtually half its membership.
Whilst both the AFC and Conmebol have an absolute right to act as they choose, their totally different structural approach does beg the question, which is the more democratic? Prince Ali, for one, will have keenly noted Conmebol’s reshuffle, fuelling his argument that one man should not have total responsibility. What he does next, after being voted out of office as FIFA VP at the end of his current term in such an unsavoury fashion, is still, as I say, open to question.
Maybe he’ll ultimately decide to jack in the whole power thing due to sheer disillusionment at the way Asian football is now being run, and concentrate on finishing his ongoing projects. On the other hand, maybe not.
Meanwhile, conveniently forgotten perhaps, is that Salman wouldn’t even be running the show were it not for the AFC evaluation committee that commissioned the notorious PWC report into financial mismanagement which ultimately brought down Mohamed bin Hammam. Salman’s brief was to reform the entire region but there is growing disquiet, under the new AFC leadership structure, over whether this will actually be possible.
By all accounts, Salman didn’t even attend the World Cup final, a remarkable snub by a confederation chief, the only one apparently who wasn’t there. Unless of course there were mitigating circumstances. As for the future, with so many pressing issues in Asia – matchfixing, the Middle East crisis, the Qatar World Cup to name but three – building a team that accommodates rather than alienates the relative strengths of key personnel is surely the most productive option.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of the The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact Andrew email@example.com