Bility aiming to put Africa on FIFA’s map

The first candidate from Africa has expressed his interest in leading FIFA. Musa Bility hasn’t curried too much favour with the African federations over the last few years and it will be intriguing to see how his bid for presidency pans out.

As the FIFA meltdown rumbles on and the powers that be move to decide when the next presidential election will be, candidates are starting to put themselves forward.

Liberia FA chief, Musa Bility, has become the first African to put himself forward for the post, joining former Brazil international Zico as one of the candidates who have declared their interest in replacing Sepp Blatter. Bility still has to garner the backing of five football associations, which is required in order to stand in the race, but he believes that he’ll be able to secure it.

“Africa is the largest voting bloc in FIFA and we must take the lead to bring football together,” said Bility in an interview with BBC Africa.

“We all agree that football is facing a difficult moment and it is in difficult moments that great leaders emerge.”

Bility is only the second African ever to make a bid for the FIFA presidency, with Confederation of African Football (Caf) president Issa Hayatou having done so in 2002. The 48-year-old has been in charge of the Liberian FA since 2010 and already has a one-up on the other candidates. African federations were long-time allies of Blatter, for various reasons, which made challenging him very difficult. With Blatter out of the picture, those who have the smaller countries’ interest at heart will most likely come out on top.

FIFA’s one country, one vote approach has gone a long way in democratising the governing body, but earlier this month, Germany’s FA president Wolfgang Niersbach – who took a seat on the FIFA executive committee last month – suggest that the current system needs to change.

Niersbach said that he would like to see FIFA reformed with “a certain amount of weighted voting based on the size and relevance of the sporting associations”, meaning smaller countries in Africa would suffer.

As the largest member-bloc in FIFA, the African contingent will be all ears, given what Bility has to say. He’s already put key points of his manifesto forward, amongst them being a “reduction in the power of the 24-person Executive Committee”. He has also called for the current FIFA crisis to be “dealt with in a transparent fashion” and wants to re-establish FIFA’s relationship with Interpol. Bility has also asked for officials who join FIFA do declare their assets before signing up and wants an “improvement in both the financing and ease for FIFA’s poorer members to receive development funds.”

These snippets might win him some support, but, as with all management positions, those in football are not without politics. Even the African bloc faces some division, and Bility has forged a reputation as a man who does not care about having an unpopular opinion. In 2011, he declared that he would be voting against Blatter at the presidential election, saying Blatter’s then-challenger Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam offered a “better platform” for football development in Liberia.

“People know me to be bold, upright, outspoken and highly opinionated. I say it like it is. When it’s not right, I don’t back down and I think that has gained me some respect. I have spoken to about half a dozen of the presidents of African football and I have their support – you can see the excitement,” he said.

Getting that support might end up being a little bit harder than he imagines. Bility does not hold a seat on the Confederation for African Football’s (CAF) executive committee. The Liberian candidate was beaten by Benin’s Amadou Diakite at the Confederation’s Ordinary Congress in 2013. Bility had managed to canvas plenty of support in Liberia and West Africa, but was thumbed by 35 votes to seven.

Part of the reason for his defeat might be the fact the he decided to stand up to the controversial rule-change relating to the CAF presidency in the same year. Bility believed that CAF’s rule change, which barred anyone outside the executive committee from contesting the organisation’s presidency, weren’t on, and he made his opinion quite clear. He mounted a legal challenge but had his case rejected by the Swiss-based Court for Arbitration in Sport.

The rule change, which saw long-serving president Isa Hayatou re-elected unopposed, meant that Jacques Anouma, one of Africa’s representatives on the executive committee of world governing body FIFA, and South Africa’s 2010 World Cup chief Danny Jordaan were ineligible to run for the continent’s top football job during the 2013 congress.

His opposition to these rules would eventually see him banned from all soccer activity for six months, on grounds that Bility used CAF confidential documents without the organisation’s permission. The documents were executive committee minutes, but no further details were provided by CAF. He served just four months of his ban before it was lifted.

This all will make him one of the more intriguing candidates to watch. Europe, the second biggest voting bloc, are unlikely to win the election with one of its own candidates. However, some federations might view Bility as an ally in Africa. It’s far too early to tell who will and won’t mount a serious presidential challenge, but it certainly will be interesting. – Daily Maverick

June 2015
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