Last Friday a fairly large chunk of global soccer fans and industry professionals alike were devastated when incumbent Sepp Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term as President of FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body. Four days later, those same people were elated when he announced his resignation.
Even though most everyone knew that his re-election was all but certain, even after the US Department of Justice opened a 47-count indictment and arrested fourteen individuals, including nine high-ranking FIFA officials, for various corruption charges, those that were not Blatter fans held the smallest shred of hope that by some miracle Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan would rally enough support to overthrow him. But as the events of Friday’s FIFA presidential election unfolded that small shred of hope was crushed when Prince Ali withdrew from the race after the first vote did not yield the two-thirds majority necessary to declare a winner. A second vote was needed, and called for, but because one only needed a majority to win in the second round, and 30 or so voters would have needed to change their opinions within a matter of minutes from Blatter to Prince Ali, the latter withdrew, accepting his inevitable defeat.
Just four days following his re-election for his fifth term as FIFA president, and after staunchly defending his involvement in and/or knowledge of the events and acts mentioned in the US Department of Justice investigation, he surrendered his position atop the sporting world. But why? Blatter remained consistent throughout the inquests of last week saying he could not possibly “monitor everyone all the time” when asked how he could not have known about the corruption within FIFA as the news broke last week. Many fingers around the world have been pointed at Blatter for a long time for allowing FIFA to slip into its current broken state – long before the US Department of Justice announced the indictments, but especially since then. Not only were fingers pointed, but the owners of those fingers were quite vocal about their displeasure with Blatter and FIFA during that time, and last week they again made their feelings known, some calling for the election to be postponed. Others called for Blatter to resign after he won his re-election last Friday, to which he responded in a Telegraph interview,
Why would I step down? That would mean I recognize that I did wrongdoing
And yet, we found ourselves watching a short-notice press conference four days later in which Blatter does just that – announces that he will be stepping down as president of FIFA, saying,
I felt compelled to stand for re-election, as I believed that this was the best thing for the organisation. That election is over but FIFA’s challenges are not. FIFA needs a profound overhaul. While I have a mandate from the membership of FIFA, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football – the fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football as much as we all do at FIFA. Therefore, I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA President until that election.
Essentially, Blatter states that the reason he felt compelled to step down is because he didn’t feel as though he had the support of the global soccer community behind him. The problem with this, is that the voices that Blatter heard around the world calling for his removal were completely audible last week, and even before that, and yet they didn’t have the slightest effect on his decision to run for and accept a fifth FIFA presidential term. So why should we believe that all of sudden they affect him now?
A report from ABC News offers a much more believable reason for Blatter’s sudden change of heart – that he is now involved in the FBI investigation. Blatter was not among the names listed in the indictments originally laid out by the US Department of Justice last week and has not yet been publicly named an official “target” of the overall investigation. However, news broke Monday that evidence has linked Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s Secretary General and Blatter’s hand-picked number two, to the $10 million payment made in 2008 from FIFA accounts to CONCACAF official Jack Warner as a bribe for his vote that helped win South Africa the host spot for the 2010 World Cup, though it is still unclear as to the level of his involvement in the process of that payment. This news left a very thin layer of separation between Blatter and the “rampant” corruption that US Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke of last week.
Rather than stepping down due to a lack of global support, another theory, and perhaps more plausible, is that Blatter resigned from his post before he was forcibly removed as a result of the developments of the investigation. We still have not seen anything yet that implicates Blatter, but for him to “pull a 180” of this magnitude in a matter of four days, it may be safe to assume that the news coming out of the investigation into FIFA is only getting started.
So, what’s next for FIFA? Other than the continued investigation the US Department of Justice is leading, as far as the presidency is concerned, Blatter has called for an “extraordinary congress” in order to see to the election of his successor. FIFA’s bylaws state that a minimum of 4 months notice must be given to the member associations before an extraordinary congress can be held, and the man that will oversee the election, Domenico Scala, Independent Chairman of the Audit and Compliance Committee as well as the Chairman of the ad hoc Electoral Committee, has said that the tentative timing of the election would be December 2015 – March 2016, according to several reports. Barring any new developments that would prevent him from doing so, Blatter stated that he would devote his remaining time focusing on “driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.”
Many across the global soccer community see Blatter’s resignation as a massive win for the campaign to reform FIFA, and it is to be sure. But before we start dancing in the streets, remember that Blatter is not the only bad apple in the bunch. It will be the exact same 209 member associations that just voted for Blatter as FIFA president that will be tasked to elect a new leader in a few months. Can we trust them to make a choice that will put the type of leader we all want to see in the power seat if they couldn’t do it the first time around? Some of the same names have risen again as potential candidates: Prince Ali, Michel Platini, Michael van Praag, Luis Figo, etc. There is still a fair amount of time for new candidates to emerge and for all to campaign around the world to try and win favor among FIFA’s constituents. Blatter stepping down can surely be seen as a step in the right direction, but we’re a long way from the finish line, so keep the champagne bottles corked for now.