Greg Cote

Greg Cote: FIFA must make clean break, move on without Sepp Blatter

In this May 19, 2015 file photo FIFA President Sepp Blatter attends a press conference in Jerusalem. Blatter is seeking reelection at the FIFA congress in Zurich where six soccer officials were arrested and detained by Swiss police on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 pending extradition at the request of U.S. authorities after a raid at a luxury hotel. The officials are in Switzerland for the FIFA congress and presidential election.
In this May 19, 2015 file photo FIFA President Sepp Blatter attends a press conference in Jerusalem. Blatter is seeking reelection at the FIFA congress in Zurich where six soccer officials were arrested and detained by Swiss police on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 pending extradition at the request of U.S. authorities after a raid at a luxury hotel. The officials are in Switzerland for the FIFA congress and presidential election. AP

The two F’s in FIFA, the acronym of soccer’s world governing body, stand officially for “federation” and “football,” although for years there have been growing suspicions that at least one of those F’s might better have stood for “fraud.”

Any naiveté or doubt about that further disappeared Wednesday.

A cooperative U.S. and Swiss law-enforcement effort detained 14 persons, including nine high-ranking current and former FIFA officials on allegations they received more than $150 million in bribes related to the marketing, sponsorship and organization of tournaments in South America and the CONCACAF region encompassing North and Central America and the Caribbean. The raid took place at a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, where FIFA is headquartered. The indicted face extradition to the United States.<

Ever notice almost anything involving corruption seems to have a South Florida tie? No exception this time. CONCACAF, based in Miami, was raided Wednesday by search warrant-bearing federal authorities. Also based in Miami: Traffic Sports USA, an affiliate of the Brazilian soccer marketing giant also implicated in Wednesday’s sweep.

FIFA also is under investigation related to corruption involving the awarding of the 2018 and ’22 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively. That probe is separate from Wednesday’s development but falls under the same broad, shady umbrella that casts doubt over the all-powerful group overseeing the world’s most popular sport.

FIFA immediately locked into damage-control mode, saying on its website it is cooperating fully in the investigation and referring to itself as the “injured party.” Said spokesman Walter DeGregorio: “You won’t believe me but this, for FIFA, is good. It’s not good for reputation and for image, sure, but in terms of cleaning up, it’s good.”

The spokesman noted that FIFA president Sepp Blatter was not implicated in Wednesday’s sweep, as if Blatter and the organization were innocent victims of the wrongdoing of others.

That’s disingenuous.

Blatter should resign immediately.

He should resign because, willfully or blindly, corruption on his watch, during his 17 years leading the group, has embarrassed and ruined the credibility of the organization overseeing soccer’s 209 national governing bodies.

Blatter should resign because he has been at the wheel while the ship ran aground. Some leaders are participants in what’s wrong. Some leaders are incompetent to stop it. Neither should be leading.

Blatter, 79, should resign because he turned world soccer into his personal fiefdom, his FIFAdom, during a Teflon reign that has lasted too long.

Blatter should resign because he, ultimately, is responsible.

Instead of resigning, he might be reelected.

This is the comedy in the tragedy.

FIFA’s presidential election is scheduled Friday and, incredibly, against logic, there was no immediate intention to postpone it. Why? Because Blatter is favored to be re-elected for a fifth term, even as the scandal rises all around him like flames.

The idea of a fifth term alone, tantamount to president-for-life, is part of the problem here.

FIFA needs fresh blood, complete transparency.

If FIFA won’t voluntarily postpone Friday’s election, the 209 voting nations should demand that happen. Better yet, they could snub Blatter and elect alternative candidate Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who is said to be the favorite among European nations.

The indictment of bribe-takers is a big step in FIFA eventually winning back public trust, but it isn’t as important as moving in a new direction that isn’t associated with the scandals.

That means rescinding the 2018 and ’22 World Cups dubiously awarded to Russia and Qatar and reopening the bidding.

And it means moving forward, for good, without Sepp Blatter.

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