Blatter’s resignation is a chance to rebuild FIFA
Four days after being re-elected president of the International Federation of Association Football, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, 79, announced Tuesday in Zurich he was leaving his post in a “wise move” he should have done days, weeks, months, even years before now. This decision comes six days after the arrest of several senior officials of the organization on suspicion of corruption spanning 24 years and totalling more than US$150 million in alleged kickbacks for lucrative media and marketing rights to soccer tournaments. Even though Blatter’s name wasn’t on the list when the U.S. Justice Department announced the indictments last week, The New York Times has now tied Blatter’s top lieutenant — FIFA Secretary-General Jérôme Valcke — to US$10 million in bank transactions that were used as bribes. So, what’s next? As the situation is continuing to steamroll — U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has so far refused to confirm whether Blatter is under investigation — it’s reasonable to be prepared for the worst since the love of the game has turned into love of money and power. According to the latest reports, South Africa authorities have now admitted paying FIFA US$10 million for organizing the World Cup in 2010, but said “it wasn’t a bribe”; Interpol has issued Red Notices to six people, including two former FIFA officials and four corporate executives; and the Russian and Qatari soccer associations may well be feeling more and more anxious as a Swiss criminal investigation has been launched into the highly controversial World Cups of 2018 and 2022.
To quote a recent tweet of Marina Hyde — a British columnist who writes for The Guardian newspaper — there is one thing on which we might all agree though: “how astonishingly quickly empires can fall when they do.” By way of a consolation to Blatter’s vanity, Hyde puts “the outgoing FIFA president on a par with the Ming Dynasty, which ruled for 276 years and collapsed in barely a decade.” And she is right. Like absolute monarchies in which all power is given to or, as is more often the case, taken by, the monarch, Blatter has learned firsthand that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even if the burden of proof is now on “he who declares, not on he who denies,” namely the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as in the Latin expression, “Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat,” we also believe that Blatter has become a victim of his own system in which national federations benefit from a redistributive model that recalls the patronage system founded in mafia organizations and increases susceptibility to corruption.
Among other examples, media pointed out last week that Oceania, South America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean are the regions that have benefited the most from FIFA’s generous development funds in recent years. Not surprisingly, these parts of the world have remained the electoral base of Joseph Blatter who collected 133 votes in the first round of last week’s election, against 73 for the Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein who was supported by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). The process was to go to a second round of voting, after Blatter failed to get the 139 votes (a two-thirds majority) needed in the first round to win, but Prince Ali conceded before the second round of voting took place. For sure, why should you vote if you already know the result of the elections? In this respect, Blatter’s decision to resign amid corruption allegations can be called a positive step, even though we should expect FIFA to do more to clean up its act, including pushing for more transparency and limiting to two terms the length of time the organization’s president can serve.
With only three presidents since 1961, the International Federation of Association Football, which is both a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization and a global company with huge revenues, does not match standards for rotation of top positions set by businesses or by other large organizations. FIFA’s unprecedented reach, political clout and enormous worldwide social influence, however, require the organization to be an example of the fair play and transparency that it promotes on the pitch in order to rebuild trust so that the game of soccer remains the real winner.