By: Harry Richart
As I sit here Wednesday, June 3 2015, this marks the third occasion that I have taken to write an article analyzing the situation/mess that is FIFA during this past week. I mark the date specifically because of the fluidity of the circumstances facing the organization and the correlated relevance of the information present in any coverage of those events. Currently, the now former five-time (sort of) President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has publically stepped down only a weekend separated from his reelection as the organization’s leader. Instead of trying to make any informed predictions or pronouncements about the future of FIFA, which at the moment appears impossible, it seems to be more appropriate to try and eulogize the tumultuous reign of Sepp Blatter here on the Dämmerung of his time as the man at the helm of the behemoth that is FIFA.
Blatter, who was elected as FIFA President for the first time in 1998, has been surrounded, and to this point immune, to a variety of scandals and controversies since the beginning of his tenure as the organization’s leader. Rumors of election fraud emerged following the 1998 FIFA Presidential election; as many within FIFA and close to the organization claimed that a significant amount of votes were bought with the help of the Qatari Football Foundation. A fact that seems all too plausible, given the fact that Qatar, a country that is the size of Connecticut, with less people, and a summer climate that reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit was selected in 2010 as the site for the 2022 World Cup.
Unsurprisingly, popular opinion of Blatter’s conduct as FIFA headman is mixed depending on what and whom one asks. For many, particularly in Africa and Asia, Blatter is viewed quite positively. This support for Blatter is so significant because of the nature of the overall FIFA election process, where each member-nation wields equal voting power. Unlike the UN Security Council or the WTO, for example, which give the more powerful and wealthier nations a greater voice, FIFA works oppositely. This organizational reality was the main force behind the processes that elected Blatter as President five times. The most acute example of this is the strident loyalty with which the African Football Confederation (CAF), FIFA’s largest, supported Blatter, whose loyalty was derived in large part out of the belief that Blatter was largely responsible for the 2010 World Cup occurring in South Africa. The legitimacy of this notion is debatable, but regardless has reaped large benefits for Blatter throughout his tenure. Additionally, countries including those in Africa and from many other less-wealthy nations across the globe have benefitted greatly from the graft and corruption that has appears to be prevalent throughout FIFA. Oddly, it appears that the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots does not preclude itself from soccer and may make more transparent and effective leadership from FIFA very difficult to attain going forward.
In light of Blatter’s widespread support from much of the non-developed world, the question remains, why would Blatter step down just days following his triumphant reelection? This answer seems most likely to be associated with the current investigation being conducted by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the FBI. The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (AOG), the other legal authority investigating FIFA, has denied that it is directly investigating Blatter, leaving the DoJ and FBI the likely party to have discovered some significant not-yet-released information that finally directly implicates Blatter of wrong doing. Thus, it seems very likely at this point that Blatter has been informed by the US government that more indictments and future trials await, leading to his resignation on Monday. This of course is pure speculation and the fact that Blatter still will be President over the course of the coming months means that anything could happen. Although unlikely, it is still possible that Blatter could rescind his resignation, or that some other circumstance could arise that this author does not have the creativity or foresight to predict.Going forward it will be difficult to know whether FIFA can fix its problems even if Blatter actually does step-down and a new President is then elected. As stated earlier, there were many countries that benefited from the corrupt nature of Blatters rule. These countries will not be likely to want to forego the financial support that has been provide them for nearly two-decades. The now infamous, Executive Committee, which with the help of the President, creates initiatives and policy for FIFA and will play a crucial role in determining whether the organization will change course and reform, or whether it will simply be more of the same. In short, even though it appears that the DoJ and FBI have cut the head off the serpent, it will be interesting to see if several more arise in its place. Although sports often seems like a trivial pursuit compared with the today’s more pressing matters, soccer is by far the most popular sport on the planet and means much to individuals living in every corner of the world. With this in mind, it seems that soccer has an unique opportunity to reorganize and set an example for reform for international organizations the world over, sending a message: If we can reform, anyone can.