By Michelle Kaufman
Haitian soccer legend and promoter Ernst “ZeNono’’ Jean-Baptiste, eager to return “more transparency and integrity’’ to FIFA, officially launched a campaign Tuesday to run for president of the scandal-ridden world soccer governing body.
Surrounded by Haitian dignitaries, including former Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, Jean-Baptiste held a press conference at Central Broward Stadium and discussed his vision if he were elected to replace longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is under investigation by Swiss authorities for criminal misconduct and misappropriation of funds.
“A lot of people were shocked when I told them I want to run for president of FIFA because they think nobody can touch them, but I say anybody can be president of FIFA and I am not afraid of the obstacles in front of me,’’ said Jean-Baptiste, 59, a former player for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers who played and coached for the Haitian national team.
“I was born in a country called Haiti, where we were the first independent black nation in the world. We defeated Napoleon’s French army in 1804. Our ancestors by doing that showed us we can be anything we want in life, and never to be afraid of taking a chance if we want something.’’
Although he realizes he may be a long shot in the February election against more well-known candidates with more years in FIFA leadership, he feels compelled to run because he wants to clean up the game he has loved since he joined his first team at age 11 and later as a member of the Miami Dade College team.
Jean-Baptiste said he is “embarrassed’’ by the recent revelations of bribery and corruption within FIFA’s highest ranks.
“I am not here to judge anybody, but for too long FIFA has been conducting business behind closed doors, everything has been a secret,’’ he said. “We need a change. On a soccer team, when the coach or player isn’t doing the job, we change them. And we must change the leaders of FIFA. I believe I have the integrity to do it, and 50 years in the game, so I know what must be done.’’
His campaign slogan is “For the Purity of the Game.’’ He said he wants to ensure fairer distribution of funds, more diversity in the leadership, more involvement of former players, and “lessened bureaucracy.’’
In order to be placed on the ballot, a candidate must be involved in the sport and have the support of at least five of the 209 member nations. Baptiste plans to spend the next several months soliciting supporters around the world.
In endorsing Jean-Baptiste’s candidacy, Latortue mentioned how Baptiste organized the “Game of Peace’’ in 2004, bringing the Brazilian national team to Haiti when nobody thought that possible. “With Nono, FIFA will get a leader who brings integrity back to the game,’’ Latortue said. “It will not be about money, it will be about the people who play and watch the sport.’’
Edison Jules, a Haitian-American running for Broward County sheriff, said: “For many young Haitians who grew up in South Florida, Nono is our Pele. His leadership gave us all the confidence to focus on our futures, and I think he would do the same for FIFA.’’