Mark this day down in your calendar forever my fellow football lovers, this was the day everything changed. Recently re-elected and 17 year Presidential incumbent Sepp Blatter resigned today from the FIFA Presidency after the most controversial election in FIFA’s history. Claims of corruption and wrongdoing have marred FIFA for years but following the American FBI’s raids of CONCACAF offices in Miami and the arrest of high profile FIFA members in Switzerland these questions have intensified. Questions are still being asked and investigations are ongoing but with Blatter’s resignation a whole new wave of questions are being asked; Why now? Will he be arrested? What about Russia and Qatar? What happens now? And what’s next for FIFA?
Just four days ago on Friday Sepp Blatter was triumphantly re-elected to the office of FIFA President. Queue thunderous applause from the well greased palms of FIFA officials. His speech was brazen and arrogant, he declared himself President of everybody and there was absolutely no resignation in his tone that said he knew his days were numbered. The next few days he responded well, he extended a hand towards UEFA saying how they all had to work together now and dismissed the investigations and turmoil FIFA faced as a western conspiracy from scorned British and American World Cup hopefuls. He even brought out his daughter, Corinne Blatter, to his defence in the media. These were not the actions of a man feeling the pressure, of someone who knows his time is up. This was the stubborn, dogged determination we’ve seen so often of Blatter. He’s developed something of a siege mentality and this was Blatter once more digging in for the defence, the Teflon-man simply willing to out-wait his detractors. But then suddenly, and to global shock, he resigns. The narrative of him standing for the election, winning with relative ease and then digging in immediately afterwards does not tell the story of a man who had planned to resign after his victory. Something has happened, something big. It’s going to be impossible to say what exactly it is but one must assume it is something legal. Blatter knew about opposition from UEFA and much of CONMEBOL, yet he went on. It was not internal politics. Blatter did not have a sudden change of heart, he was not struck by instant morality, he has none and never has. What has happened has occurred suddenly, likely today or the 1st of June and the only thing that is likely to put enough pressure on Blatter would be legal issues, likely related to either the FBI or the Swiss investigations. For those saying they predicted Blatter to go immediately – at the earliest even Blatter would have only known yesterday that he was to resign. What caused this was likely a revelation, either internal or external, that one of the investigations finally had something on Blatter and that his only option to de-escalate was to resign.
What Next for Blatter?
First things first, Blatter has not resigned with immediate effect. He’s still here for a while yet. Due to FIFA red tape a new President cannot be elected for at least 4 months though official Domenico Scala has suggested that it could take anywhere from 7-11 months. The dust has yet to settle but either Blatter will remain directly as President or there will essentially be an interim President with the former more likely. During this time if Blatter is directly indicted by the FBI or the Swiss then of course any position he holds will become untenable and with the likelihood that what it is that has deposed him is legal then this is a very real possibility.
But either way after Blatter leaves FIFA for good the question is there to be asked what will happen to him. One thing is a guarantee; he will be dragged through the mud. He will be destroyed almost completely. Following Joao Havelange’s step down from the FIFA Presidency he was taken down from all sides, from his former FIFA allies, legally and in terms of his reputation. This is guaranteed to happen with Blatter. As the rats desert the sinking ship of FIFA many will jump towards the FBI and Swiss lifeboats.
Whether or not Blatter will be indicted, arrested or will ever see the inside of a prison cell is questionable. I have my doubts personally as we know his slippery history; Andrew Jennings has already speculated that Blatter may already be co-operating with the authorities. But one things for sure; Blatter will be destroyed by this, one way or another.
Easily the most contentious issue and the event which spurred Blatter’s eventual downfall was the World Cup bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. This is the central issue for the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland and what they are investigating and it’ll be high on the FBI’s list. Blatter was the main proponent of the World Cup in both Russia and Qatar and the bid was mired in controversy. Here I’m going to make two clear predictions, of which I am almost certain. Firstly the World Cup in Russia 2018 will go ahead. It’s too soon to change this one and people always underestimate the sheer scale of infrastructural developments needed to host a major sporting tournament. Even for a fully developed country like England or Germany, to organise the hosting of the tournament in such a short time is a bridge too far. We may have the stadiums but World Cups can run into the tens of billions of pounds in costs of which stadium construction and development is not the bulk. Even if Russia is found of wrongdoing it’s just not practical to switch hosts. My second prediction is that the World Cup in 2022 will not happen in Qatar. I’m almost going to guarantee this. The momentum is too great and ultimately it was the decision to award Qatar the World Cup, not Russia, that caused all of this to happen. For obvious legal reasons I’m not going to say that Qatar will definitely be found of wrongdoing and corruption in the bidding process, but what I will say is that it’s estimated that Qatar spent as much as £17.1 billion in lobbying for the World Cup. That’s Just the lobbying costs, not stadiums or infrastructure, just money spent on convincing people to vote for you. If this figure is accurate it will amount to a similar cost to the last two World Cups combined and we haven’t even factored in the hosting costs as yet. Whilst lobbying is not illegal it is in many ways unethical and the investigations and motions against Blatter will have been for nothing if the World Cup is not moved from Qatar. Even if the Qatari bid is found to have been squeaky clean, or made to look squeaky clean, I have no doubt that it will still be spun to have Qatar stripped of the World Cup. As said I have complete confidence that the World Cup in 2022 will not be in Qatar.
Well for one thing the shredders in the Zurich headquarters will be busy this week. Corrupt officials far and wide will be covering themselves as much as possible, informing on their previous allies or furiously checking Wikipedia to find out which countries don’t extradite to the US. But in the immediate sense there will be an election and it is arguably the most important election in FIFA’s history. This election could see the biggest change in the organisation since Havelange seized the election from incumbent Stanley Rous and football moved from the beautiful game to the money game. Prince Ali bin Al Hussein has already announced his intention to run for the election after he picked up 73 votes in the first round on Friday, gaining key support from most of UEFA, CONMEBOL and a smattering of other rogue voters. David Ginola, backed by Paddy Power, has also declared his intention to stand. When Luis Figo withdrew from the election and in his statement said that “I would do it again. And I remain available to help FIFA rebuild after this.” so it can be assumed that he will be interested in trying again. Michael Van Praag could also declare again as he had a fair amount of support. Any number of unknowns could also declare themselves.
One individual who I would be deeply concerned about running is UEFA President Michel Platini. Whilst he was the first Confederation president to openly oppose Blatter he is also not much of a step up. Platini is part of the old guard, where corruption and degeneracy was an accepted part of FIFA politics. Many are championing him as the future of FIFA but people need to realise he played a big part in its dirty past. Platini supported Blatter for the bulk of his presidency and Blatter has been mired in corruption allegations since his first day in office. Platini voted for Qatar in 2022 after his son, Laurent, was given a job at a major Qatari sports firm Burrda. Of course Platini claimed this was unrelated and didn’t influence his decision. Platini isn’t part of the solution he’s part of the problem, an old guardsmen who should be included in the upheaval to come in FIFA.
Of the other candidates I am deeply sceptical of Prince Ali of Jordan. No, it’s not because he’s Jordanian and I’m not grouping them with Qatar; everyone knows Jordan is practically a US satellite state. My opposition to Prince Ali is that he isn’t a football man, he’s a football politics man. These are the kind of people who have misdirected FIFA for years because these aren’t the people who understand just how much exactly this game means. They don’t think about football the sport, the passion, the beautiful game. They think about the football business. It is not a guarantee that Prince Ali will have the same kind of support as last time. The last election was a vote either for Blatter or against Blatter and Prince Ali was simply the ‘not-Blatter-candidate’. Now though there will be genuine choice in the election and voters will have to consider a full prospectus, rather than just who is and who isn’t Sepp Blatter. I have reservations over the admirable Van Praag for the same reasons. Ginola will never convince anyone he isn’t a joke candidate. That leaves Figo who is for me the best candidate. He’s a football man, not a business man. He knows the game, he knows what it means to peoples and nations, as well as clubs and fans. But he was about during the modern era of football so it’s not like the business and the money is lost on him. He stood for election as was so disgusted with the politics of it all he stood down and denounced the organisation. Of all the candidates likely to bring about the radical, top down reform needed to make FIFA about football again Luis Figo is the most likely to do so and I hope he stands.
This could be the single most important moment in FIFA and football history. But we have seen this happen before with Havelange. This moment, this massive moment, could all go to waste if we don’t capitalise on Blatter’s resignation. A statement must be made; Qatar must be stripped of the World Cup to truly depart from the FIFA of old and its decisions. The authorities investigating FIFA must not rest on their laurels and must push even harder to root out every single corrupt official in the organisation. A genuine, hardline, radical reformer must be elected. We cannot simply vote in someone who will put a nice face of FIFA, will say all the right things but will not act to uproot the causes of this corruption in the institution. This is footballs moment to save itself and we cannot waste it.