It’s time Blatter’s cronies developed a conscience

Date: May 29, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

FIFA President Blatter addresses a news conference in ZurichThere was significant irony watching members of FIFA’S inner sanctum hiding behind white sheets as they were whisked into police cars in Zurich yesterday.

Each has been accused of living ghost-like lives amid the upper echelons of the sport – working in the shadows, accepting bribes, and according to The New York Times, involving themselves in money laundering, wire fraud and racketeering.

Those arrested and charged in Switzerland – at last count, seven FIFA officials and five corporate executives who are alleged to have had dubious dealings with football’s global governing body – are not only facing corruption charges but the possibility of extradition to the United States to stand trial.

Following the arrests, US attorney general Loretta Lynch made some explosive comments, stating that “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States. It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”

The US Department of Justice said those under investigation are alleged to have accepted bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than US$150m over a 24-year period. Aside from those already charged, others are also reportedly on the radar following a three-year investigation by the FBI.

Corruption in football? What’s new I hear you ask?

Well, this time around the principal accusations raised by the US are not being made with respect to the behemoth that is the World Cup and the sordid and corrupt way hosts have been chosen.

These latest charges centre on much smaller tournaments conducted in the United States and South America. NBC’s Bill Neely summed it up nicely on Twitter: “Charging FIFA officials on minor tournaments, not Qatar 2022 is like arresting Al Capone on tax charges. #getyourman.”

Among those arrested were FIFA vice-presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, former executive committee member Jose Maria Marin and Eduardo Li, who was to be elevated to that august committee on tomorrow.

Running parallel with the US case will be an investigation announced yesterday by the Swiss authorities into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes, with plans to question at least ten current members of the FIFA executive committee over alleged illegal dealings. The members who have been named in the media include highly-placed administrators from Europe, Africa and Asia.

The Swiss prosecutors launched criminal their criminal proceedings against persons “on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.”

Ironically yesterday’s arrests were made on the eve of FIFA’s World Congress in Zurich, an event boasting delegates from 203 nations.

The most important item on the agenda is electing the president of the world body, a position held for the past 17 years by Swiss Sepp Blatter – again the irony of the arrests continues.

Under Blatter’s watch the sport has been continually sullied by allegations of bribery on a colossal scale. The perennial survivor and ultimate politician, Blatter is seeking a fifth term. His only competition is from Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

As an interesting sidelight, the Prince informed police that his election team had been approached by a man who could deliver him 47 votes in his quest for the presidency. It is hard to be surprised by such an allegation.

Blatter has not been implicated in these latest developments and FIFA was quick to quell any suspicion that he was, issuing a media release shortly after the arrests became public. According to FIFA the presidential election will proceed as planned.

Whilst not one of the ten named to date by the Swiss investigators – all of whom are domiciled overseas – Blatter and fellow Swiss Michel Platini, the president of UEFA, are expected to be questioned.

The claim that the current US investigation has unearthed alleged bribery and foul play dating back 24 years means the irregularities and illegalities have been ever present throughout the near two decade stewardship of Blatter These latest allegations are potentially far more incendiary than the myriad others that have been raised during Blatter’s tenure.

His current term at the helm, which commenced in June 2011, has proceeded beneath the shadow of numerous allegations of irregular and illegal activities from members of FIFA’s executive committee.

Over the past four years key playmakers in the sport have been jettisoned as a result of unacceptable, and at times, criminal behaviour. Yet, through it all, Blatter has remained a Teflon-like character.

Men as high up the totem pole as FIFA vice-president, Trinidadian Jack Warner, have been forced to resign their position over ethical irregularities.

And now two more vice-presidents have been arrested, but through it all Blatter has maintained his rule over the World Game. Surely though the buck has to finally stop at his door. No other man in a position of elected power has survived such consistent and ongoing scandal.

Sadly many feel that his return for a fifth term, at the age of 79, is a fait accompli. Such a result, in the current climate, would be nothing but another retrograde move for the sport.

Surely it is time that those that underpin the president of FIFA show some leadership of their own. If they are truly in their positions for the betterment of the sport and not merely the associated gravy train they need to show some backbone.

Throughout his time on the throne Blatter has sought to dismiss out of hand any suggestions that there has been systemic and widespread wrongdoing. Yesterday was yet another example of just how wrong he is. Re-electing Blatter will do little to set FIFA on a righteous path.

Tomorrow’s scheduled presidential election needs to be suspended or should it go ahead it is incumbent on those who vote to ensure there is a new hand on the tiller.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 28 May 2015, soliciting 131 comments