Blat­ter’s res­ig­na­tion is a chance to rebuild FIFA

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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