LONDON (AP) — Liberia’s soccer chief launched a bid on Thursday to succeed Sepp Blatter, pledging to eradicate corruption and ensure fans trust FIFA again by being a unifying leader who stops power being concentrated at the top.
Liberia Football Association President Musa Bility is the second candidate after former Brazil star Zico to declare his interest in the FIFA presidency, the election for which is expected to be held between December and February.
Candidates must be nominated by at least five of the 209 FIFA member associations and pass integrity checks to get on the ballot. Bility said he already has a “commitment from many countries” to endorse him.
“Africa has the largest bloc in FIFA (with 54 members). If we don’t put up a candidate, what does this say about us and our continent?” Bility asked in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
“But I don’t want to come across as an Africa candidate. I am running as a candidate of the world. I am running as a candidate of football.”
The 48-year-old Bility recognizes that the big challenge for soccer leaders is to “regain the confidence of football fans.”
Amid escalating criminal investigations into soccer corruption, Blatter announced on June 2 — four days after being re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president — that he would step down.
“We have a confidence problem,” Bility said from the Liberian capital Monrovia. “We have a problem that is engrained in our culture (at FIFA), the way we have worked for the last 30 years … FIFA has to change. It has to be responsible and transparent.
“Today, if you look at the ordinary people, they don’t see an organization that resonates their vision.”
Bility’s vision of making the game more transparent is ensuring power is distributed throughout FIFA, vowing to be a “president who would be about unity.”
“FIFA has to belong to its members. That’s very important. It cannot continue to belong to a few people,” Bility said.
“We must make sure most decisions, such as World Cups and major sponsorship, are taken by the members, and are in the overall interest of members. That will reduce corruption.”
Bility would be taking charge of an organization enduring the worst scandal in its 111-year history. Soccer officials, including two now-suspended FIFA vice presidents, have been indicted in the United States, and Switzerland is investigating the World Cup bidding process that saw Russia awarded the 2018 tournament and Qatar the 2022 hosting rights.
“We have to follow the outcome of those investigations,” Bility said, declining to comment on the accusations specifically.
“It’s important if you break the law, you are held responsible for your actions. All those linked to any crime will definitely be removed from office and face prosecution.”
Blatter is a target of the U.S. federal agencies who are working with Swiss authorities.
“I refuse to say that Sepp Blatter is the only problem or the cause of the problem,” Bility said. “That is an unfair characterization. However, as the leader it’s only fair he takes responsibility. His decision to resign shows he has taken responsibility.”
In a bid to prevent an official running FIFA like Blatter has for 17 years, Bility endorses two-term limits for presidents. He also wants the World Cup rotation system adopted for the presidency, so a continent cannot hold onto the job for more than eight years in a row.
“If it goes to other continents the whole world feels the leadership of the organization belongs to the world,” said Bility, who is a prominent businessman in Liberia as president of the Srimex oil and gas company.
Bility has run the Liberian FA since 2010, and was re-elected for a second four-year term in 2014.
He would be the first African candidate for FIFA’s top job since Confederation of African Football President Issa Hayatou lost to Blatter in 2002.
Bility has previously been an outspoken critic of the 68-year-old Hayatou, the FIFA senior vice president who has been considered the continent’s most obvious candidate to run for the presidency but is yet to announce his plans.
“I have a very excellent relationship with President Hayatou at the moment,” Bility said. “We speak a lot and discuss matters. The (CAF) organization has got better and better, and allowed people to express themselves.”
But previously, Bility and his national association took CAF to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over rule changes that allowed Hayatou to stand for re-election unopposed in 2013.
As a result, Bility was banned for six months by CAF, and the Liberian FA was fined. CAF said it was because they accessed confidential documents when taking their case to CAS.
Bility’s ban was lifted later in 2013 after he served around four months of the punishment.
“The situation made me a better person,” he said. “It’s made me deal with my colleagues, learn to consult more, use my opinion, and get what I want in a different way. It’s got me closer to more and more people to get to the leadership.”
Liberia has never qualified for a World Cup and not played at an African Cup of Nations since 2002. The West African country’s most famous player is George Weah, the world player of year in 1995.
AP Sports Writers Gerald Imray in Cape Town, South Africa and Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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