Somehow, some way, incumbent FIFA president Sepp Blatter was re-elected on Friday, May 29th despite Wednesday’s U.S. Justice Department’s 47-count indictment and the arrests by Swiss authorities of several executives at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters. The shocking nature of Blatter’s election to a fifth term is the fact that it wasn’t really very shocking. This paradoxical view runs concurrent with the general worldwide consensus that not only has the global football (soccer) commission been historically corrupt during Blatter’s entire time at the head, but it has remained successfully above the law up to this point. As writer Tim Fernholz states, a “brazen and unrepentant” Blatter was elected rather easily when opponent, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, withdrew prior to the second round of voting. Blatter led the first round of voting 133 to 76; however he did not receive the two-thirds majority, which is required to avoid a second ballot. Regardless, it was a fait accompli; Blatter has apparently survived the fray for now. Most of the world’s football-loving population was eager to see Blatter gone, as the U.S, and most of South America and Europe voted for Prince bin-al-Hussein.
Yet, before Friday’s election began, odds makers listed Blatter to be a 1-10 favorite to hold on to his post. Although it is easy to assume that some kind of payola scheme is in play, which has been alleged in almost every FIFA decision…ever, the truth may be somewhat more complicated. It must be acknowledged that Blatter understands the FIFA structure better than perhaps anyone alive, and he is a tactical master at using it to his advantage. Using a pittance of the organization’s $1.5 billion in cash reserves to gain the undying loyalty of smaller countries, who often feel that the sport is too “Eurocentric,” Blatter has worked FIFA’s “one country-one vote” policy with strategic brilliances. Back at the head, Blatter will likely make some small attempt at addressing the corruption with much of the world assuming a high-degree of lip service, while keeping the current rules tilted in his advantage. The “reform” candidate, bin-al-Hussein, never stood a chance with many of the world’s countries, albeit he had the support of much of the world’s population. This noted disparity has leading statistical analyst, Nate Silver, suggesting that the larger countries should circumvent FIFA’s power by forming their own organization, possibly bringing FIFA to a halt.
Although much of Blatter’s conduct has fit within FIFA’s flimsy guidelines, that isn’t to say the man isn’t as slimy as an eel in an oil spill. His award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2010 announcement of the 2022 World Cup going to Qatar, with its allegations of human rights abuses and the region’s notable heat constraints, have been the most notable scandals that are included in the indictment and upon a Swiss investigation. As comedian Jon Stewart recently noted, Switzerland is a country that said that Nazi cash reserves were “okay.” Other notable scandals include links to the deaths of whistleblowers in South Africa, the clearing out of favelas in Brazil, as well as a multitude of theft and payola allegations. Grantland writer, Brian Phillips, notes that much of the public indifference stems from the fact the most of the alleged corruption occurs between the organization and equally-corrupt companies and governments, essentially equaling each other out. It remains to be seen if the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation will end up ensnaring Blatter. His response to the investigation after his re-election indicates that he is as defiant as ever, however, saying “I have especially no concerns about my person,” during a press conference following his re-election while dismissing several questions regarding the investigation.
ESPN/Grantland – Brian Phillips
Quartz – Tim Fernholz
USA Today – Nate Scott