The triumphalism of today’s newspapers in Blatter’s resignation will be short lived. The problems at FIFA are far wider than Blatter.
In all corrupt regimes, the leader tries to hang on as long as possible. They know the details of the secret bank accounts, who has been handling the bribes and the bribed. The mesh of corruption around them means it is difficult to give up power. It is simply too dangerous to leave, a new person introduces an unacceptable amount of risk that information could leak out. Without the dictator’s hands on the leavers of power that power could be used against them, with ample ammunition. That is why most corrupt leaders leave their posts feet first, natural causes or the firing squad.
So why has Blatter stepped down?
We know that FIFA is not an organisation interested in reform. Despite 13 senior officials being arrested, and years and years of serious evidence of corruption being unearthed by journalists, the members of FIFA were overwhelmingly happy with Blatter and re-elected him on Friday. It is said that this morning, after stepping down, he received a 10 minute standing ovation from FIFA staff. Staff who on average make $200,000 a year according to FIFA accounts.
Could it be that corruption within FIFA is so endemic that Blatter knows there is no chance that the organisation will elect a reforming president?
There has been much talk about the way in which Blatter has supported developing nations, particularly in Africa, and that has been the source of his support. The argument is a sham. The amount allocated to each continental confederation through the Financial Assistance Programme, at $5.5m per confederation, is a fraction of the $33m given annually to senior FIFA staff. Although, according to the latest FIFA accounts “extraordinary payments” and expenditure on “other projects” shot up last year, make of that what you will. Investigative Journalist Andrew Jennings, in his book Omerta has this to say about Blatter’s generosity.
Blatter has huge powers of patronage, funded from the billions earned by the World Cup. He uses this to lubricate the affiliated 209 national associations who happily vote to keep him in power. The grease is barely audited multi-million dollar ‘development grants’ and access to immense quantities of World Cup tickets to sell for cash into the Black Market, frequently for secret tax-free profits.
The revelations yesterday that the South African Football Federation paid $10m to the notoriously corrupt Jack Warner should kill off any doubt that FIFA was helping Africa and wasn’t part of the problem of rampant corruption bleeding the continent dry.
In addition, we know that millions of dollars in bribes have been paid to FIFA executive committee members over decades. It is difficult to imagine a majority within FIFA will want a new president who will ask any questions about how things were run before or dig around into their predecessor’s past.
We also know that Blatter is being investigated by the FBI. Could it be that Blatter realises that an orderly transition, controlled by him, is far less risky than the possibility of a disorganised transition if he is carted away in a police car?
Finally, we know that the associations who could be expected to be stronger voices for reform are pitifully weak, including the English FA.
On the Today programme this morning Greg Dyke said he isn’t calling for the Qatar World Cup Bid to be rerun, first lets wait and see what the Swiss Investigators say. Yes, lets wait for the conclusions of authorities who for years tolerated FIFA, and did nothing despite mountains of evidence which showed rampant corruption and illegal behaviour. Lets not take a leadership role, lets put our trust in them. Lets send in forensic accountants into FIFA says Greg. Good idea, but who will open the door? Is he serious?
Surely FIFA as an organisation must be so discredited that it simply cannot continue. There must be a new organisation to govern world football, with new staff, a new governing constitution and preferably based in a new country with a greater commitment to transparency. The next two world cups should be cancelled, and a new organistion run a new bidding process to host the competition.
That wont happen as a result of Blatter’s resignation. It will need concerted effort from a number of powerful nations, but are any up to the task?
Picture credit: Pan Photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/panarmenian_photo/