The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, is the international governing body of association football, established in Paris in 1904. As the twentieth century neared, there grew a need for an organized body to oversee the structure and regulation of football around the globe. Originally, the federation was founded by eight European nations which included Belgium, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany. Today this number has grown to 208 countries as the sport continues to expand globally.
With a game that captures so many around the world and generates as much revenue as it does, the FIFA president is in quite a position in terms of power and influence over the world’s most beautiful game. When that person is Joseph S. Blatter, commonly known as Sepp Blatter, we all lose. Since his precarious election into office in 1998, Blatter has done little to quell the air of suspicion that surrounds him. For years, Blatter has been involved in numerous questionable decisions regarding FIFA’s management of the different FAs. Similarly, he has never managed to escape the aura of corruption that surrounds him. His election to FIFA over then UEFA President Lennart Johansson was swarmed by rumors of financial irregularities and backroom dealings. Farah Ado, Vice-President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and president of the Somali Football Association, made direct accusations through the British press of bribery in regards to Blatter’s election. Ado claimed to have been offered $100,000 in exchange for a vote for Blatter. He also claimed to know of 18 other voting members from the African Confederation that accepted bribes. In fact, Mohiadin Hassan Ali, Vice-President of the Somali Football Association, came out to the British Daily Mail and confirmed that the Somali FA had accepted money in exchange for their vote. Blatter did not make an official statement regarding the allegations, although representatives from FIFA responded by withholding any action without corroborative evidence. After a dubious UEFA inquiry, nothing more came of these charges.
The criticism of Blatter as FIFA President is not reserved to those outside of FIFA. In early 2001, then FIFA official, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, submitted a 30-page dossier outlining financial mismanagement within FIFA. According to the dossier, FIFA had lost nearly $100 million under the management of Sepp Blatter due to the collapse of its marketing partnership with the ISL group. The report was supported by Johansson and submitted to Swiss authorities. The Swiss cleared Blatter of any wrongdoing, and an internal investigation by FIFA not only found Blatter innocent, but resulted in the dismissal of Zen-Ruffinen from his FIFA position on account of a “breach of confidentiality.”
The list goes on…
Blatter has consistently and incessantly displayed an obvious distaste of English football. Publicly dismissive of the English Premier League, Blatter has always favored the Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A. Throughout 2007-2008 season, Blatter persisted in a campaign to change the European Union’s employment laws in order to limit the number of foreign players contracted to European clubs. Always critical of the number of foreign internationals playing for English teams, Blatter has always preferred the structure of La Liga. There’s obviously something to be said of England’s home grown talent of late, as compared to other successful nations, but his praise for a two-club league is insultingly flawed. In 2010, Blatter publicly scoffed at the Irish FA’s request for a replay of the France-Ireland World Cup qualifier that ended on a controversial last-minute Thierry Henry hand-ball. The European World Cup qualification was questionable to begin with, as a last-minute seeding system was implemented that largely favored the traditionally stronger teams that had been struggling to qualify, such as France.
Besides reports of mismanagement, Blatter is not the most tasteful or tactful in the public domain. In 2004, he was criticized for making chauvinist remarks to the effect that female football players should “wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts…to create a more female aesthetic” in order to attract more men to the sport. More recently, Blatter made crude comments when asked about the illegality of homosexuality in Qatar, the site of the 2022 World Cup. Blatter suggested that “…the [gays] should refrain from any sexual activity,” in order to avoid any persecution, laughing off more serious issues at hand. The questions surrounding Sepp Blatter’s involvement with the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids are too deep to be touched in this article, but strengthen his reputation as an international man of corrupted mystery.
Whether we focus on financial mismanagement and irregularities, or his preference for certain football associations, Blatter is not the ideal candidate to continue in charge of FIFA, especially in light of the popularity of the sport and its continued growth. Blatter prevents widespread confidence in FIFA and adds to the growing realization that corruption and bias behind the curtains are regular occurrences, especially when it comes to globally relevant football competitions including the World Cup. Blatter has run without contest since 1998, perhaps due to the opposition’s realization that it would be a vain effort to fight Blatter’s machine.
It is a bit of a relief to know that a potential contender to Blatter exists. Recent public statements have indicated that Mohammad Bin Hammam, the current president of the Asian Football Confederation, will seek to replace Blatter. Perhaps we will soon be able to move past the Blatter years, and repair FIFA’s image as we move forward. Football is too good to have its name smeared by someone like Sepp Blatter.