What does this mean?

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY KEVIN BAX­TER kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com

Ques­tions about tim­ing of Blat­ter’s de­ci­sion and what will hap­pen go­ing for­ward are an­swered.

Sepp Blat­ter’s de­ci­sion to re­sign as FIFA pres­i­dent four days af­ter win­ning elec­tion to a fifth term as head of world soc­cer’s gov­ern­ing body is sure to pro­duce a pitched battle to pick a suc­ces­sor. But it also leaves sev­eral is­sues un­re­solved. Some of the ques­tions Tues­day’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment raised: What led to Blat­ter’s res­ig­na­tion?

It’s hard to say with any cer­tainty. And Blat­ter him­self wasn’t giv­ing any rea­sons Tues­day. Dur­ing his 17-plus years as FIFA pres­i­dent, Blat­ter has strongly and re­peat­edly dis­missed al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion within the or­ga­ni­za­tion and de­fi­antly re­sisted calls he step down for the good of the sport, say­ing af­ter his re­elec­tion last week, “Why would I step down? That would mean I rec­og­nize that I did wrong­do­ing.” But a Depart­ment of Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tion last week pro­duced a 47count in­dict­ment charg­ing nine for­mer and cur­rent FIFA ex­ec­u­tives with crimes, and a con­cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into FIFA prac­tices by Swiss au­thor­i­ties con­tin­ues, a probe some re­ports say was drawing close to Blat­ter. When will the elec­tion for a suc­ces­sor be held?

It won’t hap­pen quickly. FIFA statutes re­quire a four-month no­tice be­fore pres­i­den­tial elec­tions can be held. The or­ga­ni­za­tion also said it needs ad­e­quate time to vet can­di­dates and al­low them to present vi­sions for their ad­min­is­tra­tions. FIFA’s next an­nual congress is sched­uled for May 2016 in Mex­ico City but Blat­ter said in his re­marks Tues­day a year is too long to wait, so ex­pect FIFA to call a spe­cial elec­tion some­time be­tween De­cem­ber and March. What will Blat­ter’s role be?

Blat­ter sug­gested Tues­day that, freed from the con­straints of the pres­i­dency, he will “fo­cus on driv­ing far-reach­ing, fun­da­men­tal re­forms that tran­scend” pre­vi­ous ef­forts at re­form — ef­forts that, it must be noted, have been un­suc­cess­ful in the past largely be­cause of Blat­ter’s in­tran­si­gence. Is there a likely suc­ces­sor?

Sev­eral, in fact. Chief among them are UEFA Pres­i­dent Michel Pla­tini, who last week called for Blat­ter’s res­ig­na­tion, and Jor­dan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hus­sein, who drew enough sup­port in last week’s elec­tion to deny Blat­ter a man­date. But af­ter forc­ing a sec­ond round of bal­lot­ing, AlHus­sein with­drew his can­di­dacy. Other pos­si­ble con­tenders in­clude for­mer Por­tuguese in­ter­na­tional player Luis Figo, who with­drew his name from the race for FIFA’s pres­i­dent just days be­fore last week’s vote, and Greg Dyke, chair­man of Eng­land’s Foot­ball Assn. and a fer­vent Blat­ter critic. Who are the win­ners and losers?

It’s far too early to tell, but cer­tainly the sport of soc­cer would seem to ben­e­fit, be­cause Blat­ter’s de­ci­sion opens the pos­si­bil­ity of re­form. Pla­tini and Al-Hus­sein are also win­ners be­cause they look pre­scient in their calls for Blat­ter to not be re­elected. Losers could in­clude Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, who came out in sup­port of Blat­ter last week and blamed the trou­bles en­gulf­ing FIFA on the U.S. Also, Qatar’s plans to host the 2022 World Cup could be in trou­ble, since the vote award­ing the tour­na­ment to the small Mid­dle Eastern monar­chy was widely con­sid­ered fraud­u­lent. Could the next two World Cups be moved?

It’s un­likely that FIFA, no mat­ter who’s in charge, would risk a fight with Putin and change the 2018 World Cup site in Rus­sia. And with that World Cup just three years away, there may not be enough time to re­lo­cate the event. Qatar is a dif­fer­ent story. That coun­try’s World Cup prepa­ra­tions al­ready have caused no end of headaches for FIFA, with in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions ac­cus­ing the coun­try of hold­ing im­mi­grant con­struc­tion work­ers in slave-like con­di­tions. Plus the coun­try’s op­pres­sive sum­mer heat has forced the tour­na­ment to be moved from sum­mer to fall for the first time in World Cup his­tory. If the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions prove Qatar did not win the right to host the tour­na­ment fairly, FIFA’s new lead­er­ship might have no choice but to pull the event, a de­ci­sion many would wel­come, with the U.S. and China head­ing the list of likely re­place­ment sites. Is this the end of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions?

Not by a long shot. The U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment and Swiss law en­force­ment say they are just get­ting started, so ex­pect more in­dict­ments and res­ig­na­tions in the com­ing weeks and months. The probes into pos­si­ble crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity sur­round­ing the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes are likely to pro­duce even big­ger fire­works. What role did FIFA’s cor­po­rate part­ners play in Blat­ter’s de­ci­sion?

They may not have pushed Blat­ter but they cer­tainly helped lead him to the edge. FIFA banked more than $5.7 bil­lion in rev­enue over the last four years, much of it from spon­sors such as Visa, Adi­das, Coca-Cola, McDon­ald’s and Bud­weiser, who con­sid­ered the scan­dal in­ju­ri­ous to their care­fully crafted public images. As a re­sult, they threat­ened to take their busi­ness else­where if FIFA didn’t clean up its act. Blat­ter re­port­edly con­ferred with some part­ners last week, but it’s un­likely his words of­fered much re­as­sur­ance, per­haps lead­ing Blat­ter’s ad­vi­sors to con­clude a FIFA with­out him would be more prof­itable than one with him. What role did the U.S. play?

The Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the FBI played a huge role, with their in­dict­ments of high­rank­ing FIFA of­fi­cials last week break­ing open the scan­dal that led to Blat­ter’s res­ig­na­tion. Swiss au­thor­i­ties are also in­ves­ti­gat­ing FIFA and its con­nec­tion to pos­si­ble wrong­do­ing in the votes to award the next two World Cups to Rus­sia and Qatar. But U.S. Soc­cer and its pres­i­dent, Su­nil Gu­lati, have been rel­a­tively quiet — es­pe­cially in com­par­i­son to Pla­tini and Dyke, who were among the first to call for Blat­ter’s ouster. Hours af­ter Blat­ter an­nounced he was leav­ing, Gu­lati re­leased a weakly worded state­ment in which he com­mended the de­ci­sion, call­ing it a first step to­ward “real and mean­ing­ful re­form.” Is “mean­ing­ful re­form” pos­si­ble?

Prob­a­bly not in the short term. Bribery and cor­rup­tion are so en­demic in FIFA that even re­form­ers such as for­mer CON­CA­CAF Pres­i­dent Jef­frey Webb have been charged with com­mit­ting se­ri­ous crimes. Plus kick­backs and fa­vors that are il­le­gal — or at least un­eth­i­cal — in the U.S. and many parts of Europe are of­ten part of do­ing busi­ness in much of the de­vel­op­ing world, home to many of FIFA’s 209 mem­ber fed­er­a­tions. So root­ing out ev­ery shady trans­ac­tion is prob­a­bly not pos­si­ble. But FIFA can go a long way to­ward cleans­ing its im­age by bring­ing its most im­por­tant de­ci­sions, such as choos­ing World Cup hosts, out into the open and be­com­ing more trans­par­ent in even small, ev­ery­day de­ci­sions. A good start would be the public re­lease of a re­port by for­mer Michael Garcia, for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York, whose 350page in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes was quashed by Blat­ter.

Di­ether Endlicher As­so­ci­ated Press

SEPP BLAT­TER misses the kick at a count­down event in Mu­nich, Ger­many, a year ahead of the 2006 World Cup. The FIFA pres­i­dent, who made the sur­prise an­nounce­ment he was step­ping down, said he would work on re­form ef­forts.

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