At the first press conference of his fifth term as FIFA president, an increasingly defiant Sepp Blatter claimed it was his "responsibility" to restore the reputation of FIFA. This is tantamount to a Sisyphean task following a Pyrrhic victory. It smacks of hubris commonly associated with ancient Greek tragedy that often results in capitulation.
The shameful indictments of 14 top organization officials for alleged activities under Blatter's watch has inflicted a devastating blow to FIFA's legitimacy and Blatter's continuously eroding credibility. Ultimately, Blatter's re-election represents an own-goal and defeat for FIFA and a hollow victory for Blatter himself.
A further setback to Blatter's standing was his inability to secure a first-round victory in FIFA's presidential election. Contrary to expectations, there was no ritual coronation. Blatter's 39 year-old opponent, Prince Ali of Jordan, skillfully claimed the mantle of transparency and accountability which consistently eludes Blatter and FIFA so desperately needs.
Whereas Prince Ali described FIFA as an organization of service, Blatter referred to it as a company. In most multinationals, the head would normally tender a resignation if several executives were indicted. Blatter's corporate standards obviously beg to differ.
Prince Ali clearly confronted Blatter with the knowledge that he would not only lose the presidential election, but also his position as FIFA Vice President for Asia. It marks one of FIFA's finest, and rarest, moments when a single executive stood up firmly on principle and sacrificed his own position. By elevating the collective interest above personal gain, Prince Ali set a high standard and precedent for other FIFA officials to aspire to.
Furthermore, Prince Ali's electoral participation provided a critical voice and served as a crucial catalyst to those opposing Blatter. This sizeable bloc represents more than one-third of FIFA's voting members. It demands real internal reform and will no longer accept business-as-usual.
While attempting to downplay the criminal proceedings, Blatter's tone remains consistent. Instead of pursuing real outreach and reconciliation, he continues to engage in the rhetoric of defiance, victimization and conspiracy. Apart from ego-boosting and vexing opponents, these futile antics yield no concrete dividends.
Despite his legendary survival skills, Blatter's future and influence as FIFA's head will be largely determined by the judicial processes unfolding in the U.S., Switzerland and other potential jurisdictions. American justice officials reaffirmed that the initial indictments were just the start. Others will inevitably follow.
The prevailing question is whether Blatter will be indicted. It would likely spell his end as FIFA president. However, more charges of top ranking FIFA officials could also trigger a snowball effect resulting in Blatter's eventual ouster. A combination of internal and external pressure, building since the U.S. indictments were announced, will certainly play a key role. The European football federation, UEFA, will discuss potential withdrawal from FIFA at its next meeting. FIFA's corporate sponsors express serious concern due to potential damage of brand status. Such central players will likely pursue a cautious wait-and-see approach as the law takes its course.
However, spillover into the political realm ensues as governments worldwide with differing interests air contrasting opinions. On one side, the U.K. government called for Blatter's resignation. As the World Cup's next host in 2018, Russia's Vladimir Putin staunchly supports Blatter and accused the U.S. of overreach. Considering the varying legal, economic and political interests at stake internationally, the FIFA saga will continue to dominate diplomatic agendas and global headlines for the foreseeable future.
As the organization that represents the world's most popular sport and hosts the largest global sporting event, FIFA desperately needs transformational reform and renewal. It is simply long overdue. Term limits and imposing the highest standards of international best practices must top the list. After 17 years as FIFA's president, the 79 year-old Blatter represents continuity and a past marked by lack of transparency and accountability and a culture of impunity and secrecy. His ability to restore FIFA's reputation, which plunges to new depths, remains extremely limited.
Furthermore, the indictments present the Zurich-based organization with the greatest existential crisis of its 111-year history. Not only do they call into question the organization's legitimacy but also the global sport it represents. The three-year U.S. judicial investigation involves alleged wrongdoings dating back to 1991 in the amount of $150 million. Swiss authorities just launched an investigation into the World Cup bids of 2018 and 2022. With other jurisdictions also considering potential investigations into FIFA's activities, events are clearly reaching a tipping point.
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