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Football chooses its ninth Pope in Zurich


FIFA today elects its ninth president in 112 years. In a little over a century, it's been headed up by eight men. Just eight. What's more, the first - Frenchman Robert Guérin - was in the post for only two years: when the British were persuaded to join (they'd be in and out until 1946), he made way for England's Daniel Woolfall. Briefer still was the tenure of Belgian Rodolphe Seeldrayers, who died not far past 12 months into the job, having stepped into the shoes of the great Jules Rimet in 1954. So leaving aside the transitory reign of Guérin and that of Seeldrayers cut short by death, almost 110 years are shared out among six people. That stability has been a good thing, I feel.

Now president number nine is to be chosen. He succeeds Sepp Blatter, under whose rule football has risen to all-time highs in terms of global reach and social importance. In his period in charge, however, the body has also proved a breeding ground for runaway levels of corruption, particularly - but by no means only - in South America. Five candidates are running, with the understanding being that, on paper, just two have a realistic shot: Switzerland's Gianni Infantino, set to be supported by Europe and South America, and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, set to be backed by Asia and Africa. Elsewhere, the vote is either split or headed for the other contenders.

It remains to be seen whether members will tow their confederation's party line. If they don't, the ban on mobile phones will help them conceal that fact. Whoever is victorious, the only thing that truly needs to be seen to is cleaning up FIFA's act. Apart from that, the game was coming along very nicely indeed. In my eyes, what would be most regrettable about this new era would be for the winner to insist on fixing what isn't broken. And I remain fearful that it will suffer the impact of tensions between geopolitical powers, which - as Blatter has maintained - have been behind this crisis. Of course, none of this would have happened to him if there hadn't been so many on the take under his leadership.