By Brian Homewood
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - FIFA began the process of finding a replacement for outgoing president Sepp Blatter on Wednesday with the same system which has caused problems in the past.
In the race to become only the ninth president in the scandal-plagued federation’s 111-year history, there is a big risk that once again it will be a question of who can promise the most development funds to the 209 member associations, many of them from smaller countries, who each hold one vote in the presidential election.
Blatter, who has said he will not be a candidate, had mastered the system in which his promises of equal distribution of funds earned him the majority of votes from Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean.
He won 133 votes as he beat Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan to win a fifth term on May 29, only to lay down his mandate four days later as investigations by the U.S. and Swiss authorities into alleged bribery, money laundering and other corrupt practices continued to intensify.
The U.S. indicted nine current or former FIFA officials and five business executives only days before the last election. On Wednesday, Switzerland's Office of the Attorney General seized further data from FIFA as part of its probe.
"Eleven days ago, two thirds of the federations voted to maintain the old system of zero transparency and appalling levels of governance," said Jaimie Fuller, chairman of Swiss-based sportswear company SKINS and a campaigner for FIFA reform. "The problem we have is not just the Sepp Blatter problem, it's the FIFA problem," he said, adding that any suggestion FIFA can reform itself is laughable.
Aside from the question of cleaning up the organization, other key questions facing soccer - such as the very weak state of professional soccer in many countries and how to stop match-fixing will unlikely be a focus of the election.
Among those who may stand are Prince Ali, Europe's soccer chief Michel Platini, and Chung Mong-joon, the billionaire scion of South Korea's Hyundai conglomerate.
FIFA announced on Wednesday that an extraordinary executive committee meeting will be held in July to discuss dates for the Congress where the new election will take place.
The committee must first decide on the deadline for candidates to formally declare their bids, which must be at least four months before the election. This opens the possibility of the election taking place possibly in December.
However, the rules governing the election will remain the same as they are enshrined in the FIFA statutes and can only be changed by Congress.
The president of the German Football Association (DFB) Wolfgang Niersbach announced a 10-point reform plan on Wednesday to clean up FIFA.
Niersbach suggested that bigger nations should have more votes than smaller ones, an idea that is likely to set the alarm bells ringing in other parts of the world.
"I am basically in favor of this democratic participation but I think a certain weight of each vote based on the size and sporting relevance of the federations would be going in the right direction," said Niersbach.
The FIFA vote is a secret ballot, which means associations can promise a candidate their vote and then vote for someone else without the candidate's knowledge.
Candidates may not be able to use the awarding of rights to host a World Cup as a bargaining tool unless there is any sign that pressure is building for either Russia or Qatar to have their rights for the 2018 and 2022 cups, respectively, taken away. The FBI and the Swiss authorities are investigating whether bribes were paid to gain support from executive committee members to win those rights.
FIFA said on Wednesday it was postponing the start of the bidding for the 2026 World Cup.
Anyone who considers throwing their hat into the ring for the presidency may want to listen to the words of former Portugal forward Luis Figo, who was a candidate last time around and pulled out of the race one week before the election.
"Over the past few months I have not only witnessed that desire (for change), I have witnessed consecutive incidents, all over the world, that should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic,” said Figo.
"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. Nobody told me about this. I saw it with my own eyes."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Martin Howell)