Fifa president Sepp Blatter has built a formidable reputation for defying fate. But the crisis in world football’s governing body has taken on a melodramatic dimension that would put the Mexican soap opera to shame. Blatter, at 79, is now being investigated by the Swiss attorney general for signing a contract “unfavourable to Fifa” in 2005 and for making a “disloyal payment” of £1.6 million to Uefa chief Michel Platini in 2011. Blatter, who won re-election for a fifth consecutive term after the dramatic raid at a luxury hotel in Zurich in May — in which seven Fifa officials were arrested — quit his post days later, only to retract, promising to step down in February 2016. This time too, Blatter’s defiance is entirely in character.
Since the Zurich raid, the US Department of Justice has indicted 14 current and former Fifa officials and associates on charges of “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption. Although the investigation initially concerned only the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the US probe is retrospectively looking at 25 years of alleged corruption, including “racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies” by these officials.
As the world’s most powerful sport body, responsible for organising the world’s most-watched sporting event, Fifa’s crisis puts into question the transparency of how football is administered, how the World Cup is allocated and even how its president is elected — in fact, every major decision taken by Fifa in the last 25 years is now under suspicion.
The denouement of the Blatter saga is yet unknown. Although still not proven guilty, the pressure on him will only mount. Sadly, Blatter’s potential successor, Platini, is having to do some explaining himself about the 2011 payment, apparently for services rendered nine years earlier. To fix Fifa, it isn’t enough that Blatter step down. The structure of power and privilege he erected needs to be overhauled.