By Alan Clark
Well, well, well. The world’s soccer figurehead has finally gone. Sepp Blatter resigned as FIFA’s President yesterday amidst one of the most high-profile corruption investigations ever seen in sport.
It’s certainly been a whirlwind week or two for the organization.
Last Wednesday, the US Department of Justice released a 47-count indictment which named 14 individuals who are being investigated for a racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. Blatter was not named, but nine FIFA officials were.
Two days later, the presidential election was held and astonishingly Blatter retained his position – defeating Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan – and looked set for another four years in charge of the game.
Some commentators believed he wouldn’t stay on for the full term, but nobody expected such an immediate resignation from the Swiss man. A hastily-arranged media conference was held in Zürich and he announced the news, before swiftly exiting via the back door. Rather fitting.
The controversy of awarding the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar – and the allegations that have since followed – weren’t the beginning of the negative feeling surrounding Blatter. Calls for reform of the organization have been heard for many years now, yet Blatter retained his position year-on-year, garnering support for his vote from enough soccer associations, with little meaningful reform implemented. This time was different though. Even though he defeated Prince Ali, he would’ve been disheartened at the amount of votes for the Jordanian.
Now, he has walked away and there are reports emanating that Blatter is being investigated by the FBI. It is quite staggering the events of the last few days, especially when you consider these are people tasked with running the world governing body for soccer. A sport loved globally, but a sport nonetheless.
These men have, allegedly, profited big time from awarding these two nations the World Cup. The death toll in Qatar is already at a sickening number, as people are being asked to build entire new cities just to host this thing in seven years time. Blatter’s legacy.
How the person at the very top of FIFA has managed to stay in his position this long is staggering. Even after all the negative publicity of the DOJ investigation, Blatter did not withdraw from the election process, subjecting Prince Ali to defeat. He did not immediately resign, instead claiming he would triumphantly reunite FIFA and soccer over the next four years. For most of us elements like strong leadership, trust, transparency and honesty are important for any leader. For Blatter? His ego. Or bank balance, allegedly.
He’s resigned now. Why? What have investigators found to force Blatter’s hand? Maybe we will find out very soon. The smoking gun, perhaps.
What next for FIFA? Fans of the game have reacted in glee that Blatter has left the building, and so have a number of people involved in the game, such as the English FA’s Greg Dyke. World Cup sponsors Coca-Cola welcomed the news, describing the move as “a positive step”, that it expected FIFA to “act with urgency” and “win back the trust of all who love the sport of football”. They added: “We believe this decision will help FIFA transform itself rapidly into a much-needed 21st century structure and institution.” That was echoed in similar press releases from Visa, Budweiser, Adidas and McDonald’s.
A new President will be elected in time, we will hopefully see an end to corruption in Zürich – and genuine changes made in the sport. Not great press statements, or charisma on television – real, significant improvements in how affairs are carried out.
Possibly it is too close to the actual year for Russia, but perhaps we will even see Qatar stripped of hosting the tournament? Regardless what happens, these allegations will not go away for FIFA and more crucially for the individuals involved.
One thing is for sure – the bidding competitions for future World Cups will never be the same again after this historic scandal.
Alan Clark is a freelance journalist covering soccer from Edinburgh, U.K. Find him on Twitter at: @_aldo93.