HE GREW THE GAME, AT A COST
With his resignation Tuesday morning, Sepp Blatter will leave the organization he has led for almost 17 years. Throughout his time at FIFA, he weathered nearly constant accusations of corruption, but also spread the game to developing countries around the globe.
Blatter has been involved in sports his entire life — from the age of 4 when he first took up soccer, through his early career as head of the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation, as well as his involvement in organizing the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games.
His rise to power in FIFA started in 1975, when he was named technical director. Six years later, he was promoted to secretary general, the second-highest position in the organization, under President Joao Havelange. It is Blatter’s own secretary general, Jerome Valcke, who is under investigation for a potential $10-million bribe that has become the focus of the corruption scandal.
Blatter was elected as president for the first time in 1998 with a platform centered on pushing soccer beyond the traditional strongholds of South America and Europe and into Africa and Asia.
Within a year, however, British reporter David Yallop released a book accusing Blatter of spending $1 million to bribe top officials and secure votes. Blatter not only refused to open an inquiry into the accusations, he also attempted to block sales of the book in the Netherlands.
High-ranking officials, including Farah Addo, the vice president of the African Football Confederation, and Lennart Johansson, president of Europe’s governing body UEFA, continued to accuse Blatter of corruption, saying he and those closest to him bungled finances, made bribes and indulged in cronyism.
Despite these claims, Blatter was reelected by a wide margin in 2002, ran unopposed in 2007 and won a fourth term in 2011 when his only opponent, former ally Mohamed bin Hammam, withdrew a week before the election because of allegations of bribery. He was banned from soccer activities for life by FIFA.
In the run-up to the 2002 election, then-secretary general Michel Zen Ruffinen released a file that alleged detailed financial mismanagement within FIFA that led to losses of almost $100 million during Blatter’s tenure. Swiss authorities cleared Blatter of any wrongdoing, and he removed Zen-Ruffinen from office before the World Cup.
Blatter continued to succeed in elections because of strong support from the African and Asian countries he made the heart of his campaign in each cycle. Under his leadership, both continents hosted their first World Cups (2002 in Japan and South Korea, 2010 in South Africa), and they each expanded their own regional tournament slate.
Blatter has been connected to two different scandals in the last three years. In 2013, he was declared innocent by a FIFA ethics commission looking into alleged illegal payments to executives from 1992 to 2000. Havelange was found to have accepted bribes and resigned as honorary president.
Two days before the 2015 election, nine current and former FIFA executives were indicted on corruption charges.
Despite the controversy, as well as opposition from UEFA and U.S. Soccer, Blatter won a fifth term last week, defeating reform candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, once again with the backing of most Asian and African countries.
Four days later, Blatter announced he would resign from office as soon as a special election could be held.