Michael van Praag: 'A President for all countries'

KNVB Media
KNVB Media
28 januari 2015, 15:30

Foto: KNVB Media

KNVB president Michael van Praag has announced his candidacy to succeed Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA. He explained his decision at a press meeting at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, Wednesday, 28th of January 2015.

Full text: Michael van Praag's candidacy speech

"Welcome to Amsterdam. The city of my childhood. It´s also the city of Ajax, the football club I went to see every week from the age of five, hand in hand with my father. Years later I became chairman of that Amsterdam club.

And welcome to this splendid (modernised) Olympic Stadium. In 1928, this was the arena for the Summer Olympic Games. And six years later, Beb Bakhuys famously headed the ball into the net in a match between the Netherlands and Belgium in the same stadium. And it´s here that we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Royal Netherlands Football Association (the KNVB), which I have been chairman of since 2008.

It was, here, in the presence of national and international guests from the world of football, celebrities from the glorious history of the school of Dutch football and dignitaries from national and international politics, that we paid tribute to the highlights of the past 125 years of football. However, the KNVB would not be the football association it is, if it didn’t look to the future.

Equal opportunities for everyone

Together with representatives of many international football associations, as well as prominent people like EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans and football legend Clarence Seedorf, we talked about equal opportunities for everyone. Equal opportunities in coaching, as well as in executive positions. Football for everyone, both on and off the pitch, this has been a key focal point for the KNVB and for me personally for many years. In my view, football is a perfect sport for everyone and, in the fight against discrimination, it is the world of football that could be the catalyst for change.

Our work here in the Olympic Stadium last month culminated in the Treaty of Amsterdam – a package of decisive measures to tackle institutional discrimination head on. We agreed here in Amsterdam to make it our common objective to increase the representation of women at the highest executive and operational levels. We agreed that all the football associations attending the anniversary would set to work to stimulate women in high positions in their own organisations. And finally, we agreed that we would take steps to tackle discrimination in coaching, as well as in management positions at the highest level. It is these kinds of significant breakthroughs based on the principle of ‘football for everyone’ that I want to introduce worldwide.

And ladies and gentlemen. That is precisely the reason why I have invited you to this beautiful Olympic Stadium today. It is with great pride and great pleasure that I announce I sent a letter for my candidacy yesterday with accompanying declarations of support from the national football associations of Belgium, Sweden, Scotland, Romania, the Faroe Islands and the Netherlands to the headquarters of FIFA in Zürich.

President for all countries

I am standing for election to become the next president of FIFA at the end of May. The successor to Sepp Blatter. As president of FIFA, I want to hold on to the good things FIFA has achieved, but I also want to do things differently to Mr. Blatter. You can see this in the countries I have chosen to ask to back me. For me they represent a cross-section of Europe’s football landscape, they are diverse in every way. That is also how I see my candidacy: I want to be a president for all countries.

Another thing I want to do differently to Sepp Blatter is my term in office. I only want to hold the presidency for a single term of four years. This is because I want to make room for a new generation as quickly as possible. Because I want to make full use of my time in office and do not want to waste any time on a possible re-election. Because I know from experience – in business, as well as in football at club and national association level – that big steps towards achieving modernisation, let’s just call it reforming an organisation, can be taken in four years.

And modernisation is exactly what is needed so badly. And that modernisation will begin with normalisation. This is a term which the FIFA knows as no other organisation. As soon as a football association gets into political difficulties, a so-called ‘normalisation committee’ is set up to solve the problem. It is time that FIFA applied this tool to its own organisation.

Because FIFA is stuck in deadlock. FIFA is doing badly and has lost all credibility. FIFA is constantly under suspicion. Of conflicts of interest, of nepotism, of corruption. FIFA has its back to the future. And all this while, historically speaking, FIFA has meant so much to football across the world. Take the ‘Goal’ and ‘Win in Africa with Africa’ programmes for example, which resulted in the first ever World Cup on the African continent in 2010.

'FIFA will have to normalise itself'

However, in my view FIFA could mean so much more to football. In Africa, in Asia, in the Middle-East, in North, Middle and South America, in Oceania and in Europe. And in order to realise this promise for the future, FIFA will have to normalise itself in the most literal sense of the word. Simply, start operating normally. FIFA has to change with the times. It has to become more transparent. It has to meet the demands of today.

I have nothing against Mr. Blatter. In fact, I like him a lot as a person. However, someone who has led an organisation for so many years and who has become the personification of its poor image, can no longer be the face of a modernisation operation or of a ‘new FIFA’. Every organisation in the world leaves a reorganisation of this magnitude to a new face. And this has to be done at FIFA too.  As you know, I have been calling for a new president for quite some time now. Of course one can decide to remain a mere commentator. But I believe the time has come to follow the strength of my convictions. To take responsibility. For this reason, I have put myself forward as a candidate.

At the beginning of January, I spoke to Sepp Blatter extensively about the possibility of making use of his experience and knowledge. I told Sepp Blatter: ‘Sepp, I want to modernise FIFA. The world wants FIFA to modernise. And I want to lead this modernisation. I want to take responsibility as president of a football association which helped set up FIFA. I want to ensure that in four years’ time, when my term of office ends, the organisation is ready to be taken over by a new generation. And Sepp, you would make yourself immortal if you were able to step over your shadow. If you stepped aside. Because it is not about you or me. It is about football. I propose that you remain advisor of FIFA under my presidency. Under the auspices of FIFA, you could continue to build the legacy you want to leave behind to the football world: The Sepp Blatter Foundation, a foundation to help underprivileged children across the whole world.’

Offer still stands

Ladies and gentlemen. I am glad I had that conversation with Sepp Blatter. It may well surprise you to hear that I am not against Sepp Blatter. I believe it is important to involve Sepp Blatter in my plans. In Portugal, where we both attended the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Portuguese football association, he responded to my proposal. And even though Sepp Blatter has already informed me that he does not wish to take up my offer at present, it still stands.

I am looking forward to campaigning in the coming months. I am looking forward to seeing you again next month when I present my ‘FIFA normalisation agenda 2015-2019’. This will be an agenda of my plans for the next four years, backed up with a sound financial budget. You know, I do not like empty promises. I like to work on the basis of a good and solid plan.

Ladies and gentlemen, of course, I will not send you home before I have shared some of my intentions with you. I believe that the development of football in the world will be better served with a larger World Cup. The competition should be extended to include proportionally more countries outside Europe. This is because participation in a World Cup demonstrably accelerates the development and popularity of football in the participating countries. And that is what the foundation of FIFA was all about back in 1904.

FIFA has to go back to basics. As FIFA president, I believe that as much money as possible should be made available for football in its purest form and as little as possible for side issues. Last year, an incredible twenty million Euro was spent making a FIFA film. 20 MILLION EURO. That money belongs to the football associations and that is where it should be spent.

Matchfixing

Another of my proposals. The KNVB is taking strict measures to combat matchfixing. As you know, here in the Netherlands we have recently been shaken up again by serious matchfixing allegations. This is a huge threat to the integrity of our sport. Matchfixing destroys football at its roots. So combatting matchfixing has to be at the top of the agenda worldwide.

Another item at the top of my agenda is transparency. The transparency of FIFA. For instance, I believe that FIFA should publish its expenses. I believe that the president’s financial remuneration should also be published. At present this is dealt with very secretively.

I am looking forward to telling you more about these plans soon. I am looking forward to meeting old football friends and meeting new friends of football associations and confederations. And I am looking forward to listening to them and exchanging ideas. Because at the end of the day, it is about what they think. I am also looking forward to an open and fair debate with the other candidates, here in Europe, as well as in Africa, in Asia, and Oceania and in North, Middle, and South America. I will gladly set up a number of these public debates. They can be televised debates, or debates at one of our many congresses or in a particularly accessible ‘google-hangout’ debate.

Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the football associations which have sent me letters of support. They are just as convinced as I am about the necessity to normalise operations at FIFA. With their support, I am looking forward to convincing my other colleagues about this too. I will try to convince these people, who I know well, that this is the right road to take for everyone. It has to be clear that this is not about me, nor is it about Sepp Blatter, or even FIFA itself. It is about the future of football. Because football is for everyone, and football belongs to everyone. Football, a game to love."

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