Portuguese football legend Luís Figo announced last Friday (May 22) that he was withdrawing from FIFA’s presidential race, in a ‘take-no-prisoners’ tirade against president Joseph Blatter and the entire electoral process.
Lambasting Blatter’s 17-year term as a “dictatorship”, Figo claimed the race for FIFA presidency is “anything but an election”.
“This process is a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man – something I refuse to go along with,” he said.
The former football star, who won the Ballon d’Or in 2000 and FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001, questioned how anyone could think it was “normal” for the election of “one of the most relevant organisations to go ahead without a public debate”.
He also complained that candidates for the presidency “were prevented from addressing federations at congresses” while Blatter “always gave speeches on his own”.
“That is why, after a personal reflection and sharing views with two other candidates in this process, I believe that what is going to happen on May 29 in Zurich is not a normal electoral act. And because it is not, don’t count on me,” he added.
The former Barcelona and Real Madrid striker said that during his candidature, he had witnessed incidents all over the world that should shame anyone “who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic”.
“I have seen with my own eyes federation presidents who, after one day comparing FIFA leaders to the devil, then go on stage and compare those same people with Jesus Christ!”
Figo was referring to the CONCACAF congress in April, where a Dominican Republic representative compared Blatter not only to Jesus Christ but to Nelson Mandela as well.
Nonetheless, the retired millionaire star admitted that he had also met “extraordinary people” who agreed that something needed to be done to clean up FIFA’s reputation as an “obscure organisation often viewed as a place of corruption”.
Figo guaranteed he will continue supporting his ideas and remains “firm” in his desire to “take an active part in the regeneration of FIFA”.
“I do not fear the ballot box, but I will not go along with, nor will I give my consent to, a process which will end on May 29 and from which soccer will not emerge the winner,” he concluded.
As Dutch FA president Michael Van Praag has also dropped out of the race, the only person left to challenge Blatter is vice-president for FIFA in Asia, Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein.
The 39-year-old third son of King Hussein of Jordan, Al-Hussein may be football lovers’ last hope for change.
He has gained a credible reputation for being one of the FIFA officials who supported the publication of the Garcia Report into allegations of bribery and corruption that allegedly went into the decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
He is also known for helping lift FIFA’s ban on the ‘hijab’ (veil) in women’s football.
Blatter, on the other hand, has a long list of well-known controversies.
Besides the recent scandal over the Qatar World Cup, the 79-year-old Swiss football administrator has faced criticism for allegations of financial mismanagement within FIFA and his often “inappropriate remarks” – one of which in 2004 encouraged women footballers to “wear tighter shorts and low-cut shirts” to attract more male fans.
By MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]
Photo by: PEDRO GRANADEIRO/LUSA