|Can the US Justice Department take down Sepp Blatter, 'evil genius'?|
Sepp Blatter, from Switzerland’s touristic Valais canton, is a born Portier. That’s why on Friday he will be re-elected to his fifth term as president of Fifa, the corrupt global football authority. Western countries rightly decry Blatter. However, we ought to recognise his genius. This 79-year-old understood very early that there’s a new world order in which westerners don’t matter much...Or maybe not: Simon Kuper wrote the above piece on May 22. Just today, however, the footballing world has been rocked as the US Justice Department and Swiss authorities seem to have cracked down on FIFA in retaliation for repeated slights of Westerners wishing to hold the World Cup only to be outdone by the likes of Russia and Qatar. The pipsqueaks. So a bunch of FIFA officials were arrested over the designation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venues--but surprise, surprise--Sepp Blatter wasn't among them:
It turned out that Fifa cared only about naked power and money. Vladimir Putin twisted voters’ arms. Long-legged Russian ladies stalked football conferences. Qatar funded football projects everywhere. In addition, more than a third of Exco’s 24 members were accused of corruption linked to the vote. Several resigned from football. Jérôme Valcke, Fifa’s secretary-general, wrote in a leaked memo that Qatar “bought” the World Cup. (He later said he’d been misinterpreted.) Last year The Sunday Times alleged that a Qatari, Mohamed bin Hammam, made payments totalling $5m to win support for Qatar’s bid...
Many non-western football officials admire the efficient Portier. Blatter is good at organising World Cups, admits Michael van Praag, a Dutchman who tried to run against him. And the Portier handles people well. “He is charming,” says Van Praag. “He knows the name of every national association’s chairman, even his wife’s name.” Better, Blatter dishes out perfectly legal gifts to national associations. True, he cannot charm western media. But, though their attacks wound his vanity, he knows that media scarcely matter in the new world order...
Western countries are powerless to change Fifa. They could boycott the World Cup but, characteristically, they won’t make sacrifices for their principles, says Roger Pielke Jr, political scientist at the University of Colorado.
Several hours after the soccer officials were apprehended at the hotel, Swiss authorities said they had opened criminal cases related to the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups — incidents that, more than any others, encapsulated FIFA’s unusual power dynamic. “In the course of said proceedings,” the Swiss officials said, “electronic data and documents were seized today at FIFA’s head office in Zurich.”The arrests were a startling blow to FIFA, a multibillion-dollar organization that governs the world’s most popular sport but has been plagued by accusations of bribery for decades. The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. Blatter has for years acted as a de facto head of state. Politicians, star players, national soccer officials and global corporations that want their brands attached to the sport have long genuflected before him.
The mighty Sepp is still as cagey as ever:
I would love it if a clean, appealing candidate like soccer legend Luis Figo could have remained in the race to be FIFA president, but the truth of the matter is that international football is all about global power politics. Further, I do not doubt that FIFA's is a dirty, dirty game as a reflection of those aforementioned global power politics. That said, the United States' Justice Department's inability to make anything stick to the mastermind of the whole show, Sepp Blatter, makes you wonder if anyone can take him down at this stage in the game.An election, seemingly pre-ordained to give Mr. Blatter a fifth term as president, is scheduled for Friday. A FIFA spokesman insisted at the news conference that Mr. Blatter was not involved in any alleged wrongdoing and that the election would go ahead as planned.The Department of Justice indictment names 14 people on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. In addition to senior soccer officials, the indictment also named sports-marketing executives from the United States and South America who are accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals associated with major soccer tournaments.The soccer officials charged are Mr. Li, Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin and Nicolás Leoz.
Soccer remains a famously minor sport in the US, and I doubt whether FIFA voters will be swayed by these outsider Yanks trying to persecute some of their own. Unless something major happens, another Blatter term is in the offing that's just as predictable as the Chinese Communist Party chooses its predetermined leaders. I further believe that the fight will increasingly take this sort of framing: developing countries fending off "American imperialism" over good governance practices.
It's game on, and smart money wouldn't bet against Sepp even now. Nothing personal, but it's all about the money.
UPDATE: See CNN for reasons why the US is taking on FIFA.