Field of candidates to unseat FIFA President Sepp Blatter grows

Field of candidates to unseat FIFA President Sepp Blatter grows
Former Portuguese soccer player Luis Figo speaks during a news conference in June 2013. Figo announced Wednesday that he will run for the FIFA presidency. (Miguel Gutierrez / EPA)

Sepp Blatter's campaign for a fifth term as president of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, got a bit tougher Wednesday when former Portuguese star Luis Figo announced his candidacy for the job just a day before the deadline.

Four others are also in the race, but aside from Figo, only Dutch federation President Michael van Praag and Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan are considered serious candidates. Both men, like Figo, are promising to reform the organization if elected.


FIFA has been dogged by charges of corruption and unethical behavior during Blatter's 16 years in charge. But calls for a change in leadership intensified after the organization initially refused to make public a report it commissioned into irregularities in voting for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Those tournaments were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively, amid charges of vote-buying.

In December, Blatter backed down and said a redacted version of the ethics probe by U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia will be published, but only after investigations into five individuals are completed.

Figo, 42, the world player of the year in 2001, said he had the support of at least five national federations, a FIFA requirement to run for the group's top job. The election is scheduled for May 29 in Zurich.

"I care about football, so what I'm seeing regarding the image of FIFA, not only now but in the past years, I don't like it," Figo told CNN.

"If you search FIFA on the Internet, you see the first word that comes out: scandal, not positive words. That's what we have to change first -- to try to improve the image of FIFA. Football deserves much better than this.

"I've been talking with so many important people in football, players, managers, president of federations, and they all think that something has to be done.

"Change in leadership, governance, transparency and solidarity. ... I think it's the moment for that."

Van Praag, 67, said he has no personal animosity toward the 78-year-old Blatter, FIFA's eighth president. But he also believes it's time for new leadership.

FIFA is "doing badly and has lost all credibility," he said. "FIFA is constantly under suspicion. Of conflicts of interest, of nepotism, of corruption."

Prince Ali, 39, who announced his candidacy three weeks ago, was among those who have called for the release of the Garcia report.

"It is time to shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport," he said.