The spineless leaders of the world’s favorite game confirmed that it is also the most corrupt when they reelected Sepp Blatter to a fifth term as president of FIFA, or godfather of soccer.
The 133-73 vote in Zurich assured that Blatter’s reign of shame will continue. The message of the first ballot was so clearly anti-reform that Blatter’s lone opponent, Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, conceded before the second round.
If ever FIFA had a chance for cleansing, it was Friday, two days after seven FIFA officials arrested in dawn raids at their luxury hotel in Zurich were among 14 indicted on racketeering, money-laundering and tax evasion charges in a U.S. investigation of $150 million in bribes. Four others pleaded guilty. Swiss prosecutors are investigating the bid-rigging that was apparent the moment FIFA awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
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The scandal is the biggest to engulf FIFA during Blatter’s tumultuous 17 years as president, during which soccer has been battered by controversies involving graft, cronyism, game-fixing, sexism and racism.
As the game grew and money flowed, soccer’s governing body lost respect, the FIFA acronym became synonymous with fraud and Blatter became a comedic punch line.
“FIFA Nostra” was the headline in France’s Liberation newspaper, beside a graphic of puppet strings attached to a soccer ball, homage to The Godfather movie poster.
“Juego Sucio” was the headline in Venezuela’s Lider En Deportes, next to a photo of a red card. The beautiful game has been reduced to the dirty game.
“They Uncovered the Sewer” was the headline in Hoy of Chicago.
Yet FIFA’s leaders could have washed their hands Friday and announced to the world that soccer is finally ready to embark on a new path toward restoration of integrity. It would have been simple to not vote for Blatter, 79, and wish him well in retirement.
But the election results prove just how thickly Blatter has spun his web of power. His underlings are so beholden to his influence and his favors that they can’t even see the damage they inflict on the sport.
They are as blind as Blatter. He could have removed his name from the ballot and saved a shred of his own honor. He could have showed he respects the sport he claims to love. But he refused.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the famous quote from historian and moralist Lord Acton.
FIFA holds $1 billion in reserve — that’s a sumptuous slush fund.
“For the next four years I will be in command of this boat called FIFA, and we will bring it back ashore, we will bring it back to the beach,” said Blatter, promising to make it his last term, which he has promised before.
Recall that his predecessor and mentor, Joao Havelange was also ethically challenged. “The age is no problem. You have people that are 50 who look old.
“I like you, I like my job, and I like to be with you. I’m not perfect, nobody’s perfect. Trust and confidence, together we go.”
Trust and confidence are perhaps the last words one would attach to Blatter at a critical time for soccer. He is not the man to steer FIFA out of this crisis given the ballast he carries in his pockets.
He claims “a tiny minority” is to blame, yet a look at FIFA’s hierarchy reveals that the leaders who have been arrested or indicted all hold or have held posts directly beneath Blatter.
It’s not surprising that some targets of the U.S. investigation have ties to Miami, including executives of Traffic Sports USA and CONCACAF who were instrumental in bribe schemes for commercial rights to World Cup qualifiers and Gold Cup and Champions League series. Enrique Sanz, who has not been charged, first solicited bribes from Central American federations as a Traffic exec, then solicited bribes from his old company as a CONCACAF exec, according to the indictment.
If anything worthwhile comes of Blatter’s reelection, it could be revolution. UEFA president Michel Platini and its 53 members have discussed withdrawing from FIFA. England might lead a movement to boycott the World Cup. Luis Figo demanded that Blatter step down in the name of “decency.” Even corporate sponsors are embarrassed and say they might cancel contracts.
Blatter would have been smart to resign. Like former CONCACAF executive Chuck Blazer, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and then wore a wire attached to a keychain to ensnare others, the officials indicted will be looking to cut deals with the government. FBI Director James Comey said greed created an uneven playing field for the world’s most popular sport, and bribery “became a way of doing business at FIFA.”
Blatter should be scared. Former CONCACAF president Jack Warner, one of Blatter’s closest allies, was arrested in Trinidad on Wednesday, then released from jail, citing exhaustion. Later, he was dancing at a political rally and not too exhausted to tell his cheering supporters: “If I have been thieving FIFA money for 30 years, who gave me the money? How come he is not charged?”