It took a while, but Sepp Blatter finally did the right thing and resigned as the head of FIFA. Not that that’s really a cause for celebration. I mean, it is a cause for celebration. And it’s not a cause for celebration. Because this should have happened years ago.
For those of you who don’t know, FIFA is the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or the governing body for world football. Not the kid of football that’s played in the United States mostly with the hands. No, the kind of football that is played in the rest of the world, mostly with your feet. Americans know it as “soccer.” Blatter, a Swiss businessman and former advertising executive, has been the head of FIFA for the last 18 years, since he succeeded João Havelange on June 8, 1998.
Now Blatter has done some good things. Primarily, he has been a large advocate of giving the continent of African and lesser nations a chance at hosting the World Cup, as well as some of the many lesser FIFA competitions, including those for particular age brackets of youth. It was through Blatter’s advocacy that South Africa hosted the World Cup back in 2010.
But his entire regime has been scandal plagued. So much so that in 2008 British sports journalist Andrew Jennings wrote the subtly titled book Foul!: The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals. And he was hardly the first. Other authors have written books, equally mysterious in how they were titled, with names such as “The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime,” “The Ugly Game: the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup,” and “How They Stole the Game.”
Last week, or precisely, on May 27, 2015, nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were indicted for racketeering conspiracy and corruption under the federal RICO law. Why they were indicted in the United States is complicated, and has to do with the use of the United States banking system for much of the racketeering; it immediately brought a rebuke from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is afraid that the 2018 World Cup will be taken away from Russia.
It won’t happen.
Russia is a big time country that deserves to host the World Cup, an event it has never hosted.
If I were Qatar, scheduled to host the 2022 World Cup, I wouldn’t be sleeping so easy, however. Qatar, for the geographically challenged, is a tiny but super oil rich country that was chosen as the first Arab representative to host the World Cup. Qatar (which some people pronounce “Cutter,” like the locals in the film “Breaking Away,” which pronunciation is not correct) is so oil rich that its inhabitants have the highest per-capita GDP in the world.
What they don’t have is a lot of Qataris to build things. Or a climate which is fit for playing soccer in the summertime, when the World Cup is held.
As a consequence, Qatar has imported thousands of immigrants from countries like Nepal and Pakistan, and some of these are practically slaves in the country. And the World Cup — after rejecting ideas like having Qatar try to see “artificial clouds” so that it would be overcast in World Cup stadiums — has had to reschedule the World Cup for the winter time when conditions are manageable, which has made the big European soccer leagues none too happy.
In any case, there are more than a few people who believe that Qatar essentially “bought” the rights to host the World Cup under the table.
So, remarkably, after all of this, Sepp Blatter was up for re-election just last week, literally two days after the indictments were announced by U.S. Attorney General Lorette Lynch. (As an aside, both he and Russian President Putin saw the timing of the indictments as politically motivated.) Remarkably enough, Blatter won again, over his only opponent, Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan.
Well, in a complete reversal, Blatter has now decided to resign. Why did he make this decision a mere four days after re-election? It could be that FIFA’s General Secretary Jérôme Valcke, who is basically Blatter’s “right hand man,” came under too much pressure after evidence emerges showing he was aware of a $10m payment from South African officials to the former CONCACAF president Jack Warner, a payment described by US investigators as a bribe.
Oh, how the mighty are falling. If you wait long enough, they usually get the son of a bitch. But mostly because these guys get careless and start to believe that they’re invincible and that no one can get them.
Blatter was almost invincible. He was reelected. And now he’s resigning, not as a matter of “conscience” (let’s be clear about that), but either because the big dogs (i.e. moneymen) have persuaded him to, or because he believes he’s going to be led out of a Swiss office park in handcuffs himself in the not too distant future.