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FIFA remains a scandalously run organization

Despite all that has happened on his watch, Sepp Blatter appears set for an easy reelection as president of soccer's governing body.

May 12, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • FIFA President Sepp Blatter during a news conference on Tuesday in Zurich.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter during a news conference on Tuesday in Zurich. (Walter Bieri / EPA )

It would be exceptionally satisfying to state here that FIFA was on its knees and unable to stand up for the count.

Sadly, that count will go ahead, and when it is over June 1 and soccer's latest presidential election has been held, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter very likely will still be the head of the sport's international governing body.

No amount of corruption, it seems, can bring down the 75-year-old Swiss. Snakes might be rare in Switzerland, but snake oil is obviously in plentiful supply, and Blatter is one of its most successful salesmen.

There is only one candidate running against Blatter, but Qatar's Mohamed Bin Hammam, 62, is every bit as unsavory and untrustworthy as Blatter, whose schmoozing and glad-handing — not to mention the doling out of huge favors — has kept him in office for 13 years and through two reelection campaigns.

The survival trick that Blatter learned from his former boss and predecessor — Brazil's autocratic Joao Havelange, who held sway at FIFA headquarters for 24 years — is to orchestrate matters in such a way that you are surrounded by yes men.

Dishing out the favors — a World Cup here, a few million dollars in "development" funds there — keeps everyone in line. In that way, the very people who are supposed to keep the checks and balances instead keep only the checks.

Keep denying that unethical behavior goes on and before long the general public ceases to care. Another scandal? Oh, not to worry, it's just FIFA. That's business as usual at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

Swiss authorities are about as powerful as the Swiss military, which is to say they are a flock of bleating lambs, and FIFA has carte blanche to do as it likes behind the Swiss borders and Swiss bank accounts.

So Blatter stays in power, even as this week once again has exposed just how rife with ethically dubious behavior his entire organization is.

In October, not long before Russia and Qatar were selected to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively, under enormously suspicious circumstances and at the expense of far-better-qualified England and the U.S., a major scandal broke.

An English newspaper investigation by the Sunday Times revealed the susceptibility of FIFA executive committee members to bribery. Six current or former members were subsequently banned from soccer for one to four years.

At the time, Blatter, that sad-faced, hand-wringing saint at the altar of transparency, said that society is "full of devils, and these devils, you find them in football."

This past week, Blatter trotted out the same tired line, once again deflecting attention from the fact that so many scandals have occurred on his watch.

"I cannot say that they are all angels or all devils," he said of the executive committee members who this week were exposed as allegedly having accepted or solicited bribes ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup voting.

Blatter said he would forward any evidence of wrongdoing to FIFA's ethics committee. That, of course, is virtually the same thing as forwarding it to FIFA's committee for sweeping things under the rug.

Corruption tends to cover up corruption, and no amount of digging can ever uncover the truth. When it comes to FIFA, the Augean stables were clean by comparison.

Of course, the two candidates have expressed their alleged concerns, palpably insincere as they might be.

Blatter said he was "shocked" at the latest round of allegations against executive committee members, including Trinidad and Tobago's Jack Warner, Brazil's Ricardo Teixeira, Paraguay's Nicolas Leoz, Cameroon's Issa Hayatou, Thailand's Worawi Makudi and Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast.

"Zero tolerance . . . is my battle horse," was the latest nonsensical Blatter war cry.

Bin Hammam, on the other hand, claimed the allegations are all make-believe by an embittered English press and parliament.

"I will happily and unreservedly restate that I firmly believe FIFA as a decision-making body and as an organization isn't corrupt," he said this week.

Bin Hammam did say of FIFA that "it is impossible to deny that its reputation has been sullied beyond compare."

Meanwhile, Blatter's cronies will circle the wagons around the doddering lawn ornament, trying to keep him, and hence themselves, in power.

On Thursday, David Bernstein, chairman of the English football association, suggested that England, woefully weak when it comes to leadership of any sort, might abstain when the voting takes place.

"The key thing we'd be looking for is probably more openness . . . in financial information and election procedures," Bernstein told the Guardian newspaper. "I think it's a very closed organization and a lot goes on behind closed doors, and we would like to see those doors much more widely open."

There is as much chance of that happening as there is of Blatter losing the June 1 election.

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