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Q&A With Grant Wahl: The Journalist Hoping to Replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA President

Time for change at FIFA’s top table?

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Firstly what inspired you to run for the post of FIFA president and what do you hope to achieve from putting your name forward?

I travel all over the world covering football for Sports Illustrated, and wherever I go the fans are upset with FIFA and Sepp Blatter. They don’t think FIFA is a clean organization. So it surprised me that Blatter ran unopposed in 2007 and (until I announced my candidacy) was running unopposed again in 2011. FIFA claims to be a great democracy, but great democracies don’t have one-candidate elections all the time. I looked up the FIFA statutes, which made it clear that anyone can run for FIFA president, so I decided to announce my candidacy on February 17.

I’m representing the voice of the world’s football fans, who want to see common-sense changes to make FIFA a better organization and football a better sport. That’s a powerful message, as I’ve learned from the incredibly positive response to my candidacy around the globe. I realize that my chances of winning the FIFA presidency are slim, but I do think it’s possible to get nominated and to make sure there is a public debate over the improvements that FIFA can make. I think my candidacy has already increased that discussion, but an official nomination from one nation’s FA would help do that even more.

Given that the issue of corruption within FIFA is a fairly big ‘Elephant in the room’ do you think you could help bring down the house of cards at FIFA headquarters, if so, how?

The first thing I will do as FIFA president is a Wikileaks on FIFA, making every internal document public so that we can decide how clean or unclean FIFA really is. I will also commission an independent investigation into FIFA using the guidelines of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

What are your thoughts on Sepp Blatter?

I think FIFA’s reputation has been damaged under Blatter’s presidency, and I think he is far too much of an insider at this point to enact the reforms that FIFA needs to make. That’s what happens when you don’t have term limits: Because FIFA has only had two presidents in my 37-year lifetime, the organization hasn’t adapted well to the times and has been unwilling to embrace change. Blatter’s main goal is simply to stay in power for four more years. I don’t think Blatter is a bad guy personally—we have some common friends—but I don’t think he deserves another four years running FIFA.

Do you think that corruption within FIFA is as rife as some would have us believe, and by some we mean investigative journalists with the bit between their teeth.

I think we need real answers, which is why I will do everything possible to get them as FIFA president.

Will you be meeting up with members of the executive committee in order to drum up support and are there any particular individuals who you feel may be more open to change than others?

The ExCo members don’t vote or nominate, and I’m running as the ultimate outsider, which is what FIFA truly needs. Once I become FIFA president, I will make sure to meet with the members of the ExCo.

How are you financing this undertaking?

I can’t afford to travel around the world like Blatter does for his campaign, so I’m relying on social media to send what I think is a message for change that resonates around the world with football fans.

What Five things do you think need changing in the game?

To give you a better idea of my candidacy and my common-sense platform, here is my announcement and my campaign video

Is there more that could be done to tackle racism in the game?

Some good work has been done already by a number of people and organizations, but there can always be more. I continue to be disgusted by racist incidents that take place in football stadiums.

Would you seek to strengthen or loosen guidelines/regulations relating to the issue of spending within the game? Are you in favour of wage caps or other forms of curbing spending?

I think there should be more revenue sharing within leagues—Barcelona and Real Madrid get far too much TV money in Spain, for example—and I think there should be a FIFA-mandated salary cap that applies to leagues around the world. That cap number could be set very high, but I do believe a cap is necessary.

What is your view on the use of video technology in the game?

I think video technology should be used for all close calls on the goal line.

What are your thoughts on reducing or increasing the amount of teams in the World Cup Finals?

I like the current number at 32. Increasing the number to 48 or 64 would make the tournament last too long.

Do you think the current role of the FIFA executive committee has to be streamlined/removed/replaced?

I think the 24-member ExCo has too much power. I would prefer to see more votes taken by the entire FIFA membership and perhaps have an ExCo that is much larger, like the size of the International Olympic Committee.

What is your background in the game, are you a lifelong fan and how did you break into football journalism?

I grew up playing the game (though not a high level) and became a hardcore fan during the 1990 World Cup before increasing my passion even further while living in Argentina in 1995 and writing my university thesis on politics and football in that country. When I joined Sports Illustrated in 1996, none of the writers wanted to cover the sport. It was a way for me to get into the magazine, and I always wanted to cover football full-time if SI ever had enough demand to do so. For the next 14 years I covered all the big football events, and in January 2010 I became Sports Illustrated’s first full-time football writer. The job has taken me all over the world covering the stories in this amazing sport: China, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and countries throughout Europe. I think I have a pretty good understanding of the world’s football fans by now.

What do you say to those who may believe your running for the position is little more than a publicity stunt given the chances of success are as minimal as chances of executing change at FIFA.

I think my candidacy is sending an important message on behalf of the world’s football fans: They want major reforms in FIFA. That’s what deserves to be getting publicity, and I can help spread that message even if I don’t win the election. There’s real value in that.

What football team do you support?

As a journalist I’m not really allowed to support teams. But before I became a journalist I was a supporter of the MLS team in Kansas City (my hometown) and Boca Juniors in Argentina.

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