FIFA Arrests

A Red Card for Soccer's 'Godfather'

FBL-FIFA-CORRUPTION-US-SWITZERLAND-FILES
Godfather Sepp has an offer you can't refuse.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Though Mr. Blatter has not been implicated in the latest arrests, few doubt that the Swiss 79-year-old has helped cultivate Fifa’s toxic culture during his decades at the organization.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The raid came just days before Mr. Blatter is standing for reelection as FIFA president.
    • The FIFA officials allegedly accepted in total of $100 million, or €94.5 million, in bribes.
    • Accusations of corruption have swirled around FIFA for years, marring most recently the awarding of upcoming World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.
  • Audio

    Audio

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If there were a prize for the most awkward public communicator of all time, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter surely would deserve it. Dubbed the “self-righteous gnome from Zurich” by his critics, the Swiss president of soccer’s governing body FIFA is in no short supply of controversial comments.

For example, he once suggested women footballers wear tighter fitting shorts like female volleyball players. And most recently he called for gender testing to ensure female players were just that. There’s hardly a week where Mr. Blatter and FIFA aren’t making some sort of unfortunate headlines.

But the news this week is of a different caliber entirely: the power structures that Mr. Blatter has constructed over the past 34 years – first as FIFA’s general secretary and then president – were thoroughly shaken on Wednesday morning.

Swiss police arrested seven FIFA functionaries at the luxurious Baur au Lac hotel at the behest of the U.S. Justice Department. In total, 14 people are being investigated for alleged corruption. Many have apparently admitted wrongdoing – or rather simply being part of the normal greasy FIFA machine: They allegedly accepted a total of $100 million, or €94.5 million, in bribes.

Though there is naturally the presumption of innocence for those who have not yet confessed, the raid is undoubtedly connected to investigations into the dealings at FIFA’s headquarters.

It also comes at the worst possible time for Mr. Blatter, who is hoping to be re-elected president for the fourth time on Friday.

Though he is currently not part of the FBI’s investigations, the equally savvy and smug 79-year-old cannot completely disown some sort of collective responsibility for the organization he so personifies.

After all, some close personal confidants of the global football business strategist have been arrested. People like vice president Jeffery Webb, the head of the North and Central American soccer confederation CONCACAF.

Swiss authorities have frozen several accounts apparently used for bribery payments and documents have been seized.

Football, paired with the thrill-seeking medium television and fed by deep-pocketed global corporations, has been turned into an entertainment juggernaut.

It’s as if an avalanche has violently shaken Sepp Blatter’s Alpine refuge.

The man who called himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer has also gladly employed the methods of a mafia don – watching over the game and deciding who gets a part of the action and who doesn’t.

Football, paired with the thrill-seeking medium television and fed by deep-pocketed global corporations, has been turned into an entertainment juggernaut.

A game worth billions clearly overwhelming the moral compunction of several FIFA functionaries. And the bigger that business became, the more their ethics shrank.

Mr. Blatter understands the mechanics of power better than anyone: It was he who showered charm and cash on the smallest of the 209 national associations, while garnishing the whole enterprise with pop culture spectacle.

It became almost a global religion focused on making a few people fat and happy.

Mr. Blatter once said he believed in God and what that meant for him: “From time to time, he tells me I can go straight to the Vatican.”

This person has raised himself to such heights that he is no longer capable of handling earthly duties.

The special report by U.S. investigator Michael Garcia about the corruption allegations at FIFA remains unreleased. An internal probe has been closed. Rumors still abound that awarding the World Cup to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) was a totally compromised process.

The current probe, however, involves the media, marketing and sponsoring rights on soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America. Allegedly, corporations paid bribes.

Reinhard Rauball, president of the DFL German Football League, has indirectly called for Mr. Blatter’s resignation, saying he would be doing everyone a favor.

A red card for him would unquestionably be appropriate, but after surviving several dubious affairs over the years, the Godfather clearly intends to keep on playing.

It doesn’t matter if a soccer legend like Maradona says FIFA has become “a painful embarrassment” under Mr. Blatter. The president of presidents simply continues to watch from the lofty heights of his office.

Mr. Blatter once wondered whether soccer will one day be played on another planet.

But many who have been forced to watch FIFA’s racket here on Earth for years would rather send Mr. Blatter to the moon.

 

To contact the author: jakobs@handelsblatt.com

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