Sepp Blatter has only a few choices as the FIFA corruption scandal continues to unravel, and none looks very appealing. He can remain defiant and pray he comes away unscathed. He can go away kicking and screaming. He can do right by his constituency and resign.
You need not be an authority on soccer to understand where this is going for soccer’s highest authority. The FIFA president is too intoxicated by his own power to comprehend he’s following a familiar pattern, the same template that doomed many buried in controversy, from Richard Nixon to Lance Armstrong.
The names and faces change, but the outcome rarely does. People like them convince themselves that they’re smarter than everyone else and will beat the system. They begin by pleading innocence, then claim ignorance. They aggressively blame others before the scrutiny intensifies and the pressure cooker blows its lid.
Eventually, they’re taken down.
It’s hard to imagine this ending well for Blatter, who is among the world’s most powerful sports figures. He’s an intelligent man who understood how the mass audiences in television could turn into billions of dollars. He lifted FIFA to its greatest heights and helped popularize soccer around the world before getting caught up in the biggest scandal in the sport’s history.
Two vice presidents of FIFA were among 14 people charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in a 47-count indictment. Some are accused of taking bribes in exchange for their votes to determine future World Cup sites. U.S. and Swiss authorities believe foul play goes back 24 years.
The charges weren’t exactly shocking. For years, there were rumblings about FIFA executives being on the take, just as there was talk about steroids in baseball long before it was confirmed. It was a matter of time before the governing body was exposed. It was inevitable.
Russia was awarded the World Cup in 2018, and while Qatar will hold the event four years later. You can always count on Russia to be involved in something seedy. Soccer is barely on the radar in Qatar, where the summer heat is so intense that the World Cup there will be played in November and December.
And they wonder why people grew suspicious.
Blatter, who has not been charged and refused to step down, has become the Teflon Don of soccer. Days after the arrests, he was re-elected for a fifth term in office by its 209-member federation. What company would give a CEO a four-year contract extension after seeing his top lieutenants dragged away in handcuffs?
It’s mind-boggling until you learn that FIFA for years, ahem, donated millions of dollars to third-world member federations. Of course they voted for him when he came up for re-election. In essence, he bought their allegiance. But let’s not get bribery confused with noble relief efforts.
Rather than give him the boot, FIFA’s members further empowered a 79-year-old man who had way too much power in the first place. To clean up the mess, it needed someone who wasn’t embedded in the organization. Unfortunately, too many people were indebted to Blatter to remove him.
Making matters worse, migrant workers are dying in Qatar while building stadiums in preparation for the World Cup. They’re working long hours in 120-degree heat for little money. More than 1,200 workers reportedly have died since the projects began. Some 4,000 are expected to perish before they’re completed.
Four thousand. You know how many died while working on the Empire State Building in 1931? Five.
FIFA had the power to ensure people were working under safe conditions for fair wages, but it effectively turned its head and counted its money. The governing body loses more credibility with every day its president remains in office. It can’t continue to ignore obvious problems, starting with their leader.
Blatter, who has been president for 17 years, has played stupid through the whole thing while insisting he did nothing wrong. He went on the offensive and blamed others for staining his organization. He claimed he’s only one man and can’t possibly control the actions of others in an international multibillion-dollar industry.
OK, but he also can’t have it both ways.
Blatter knew, or should have known, about the possible corruption within his jurisdiction. If he knew and did nothing, he’s negligent. If he didn’t know, he’s not equipped to be president. A strong leader would have addressed the issues long before investigators started sniffing around.
We’ll see what happens as the scandal unfolds. The investigation will continue. Already, there’s talk of countries boycotting the next two World Cups. It shouldn’t be long before sponsors who helped turn FIFA into a cash cow start threatening to pull their money unless drastic changes are made.
Eventually, it will come back to the bottom line. It starts at the top.