The abdication of Sepp Blatter as President of FIFA offers to the world football community significant challenges and opportunities. Blatter has announced that he will remain in charge of FIFA until a successor is elected at least six months from now. Until then, he can do much mischief. Federal prosecutors are 4,000 miles away, and the records that would document FIFA's perfidy must be preserved.
The sniping began immediately upon Blatter's announcement. The host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups -- Russia and Qatar -- are most at risk as the investigations into bribery and payoffs continue apace.
Many think that it was the preposterous decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar that finally led to the indictments and the arrest of much of the FIFA leadership, sans Blatter. However, Qatar's Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah's response was swift, the first of many likely to come. This campaign against Qatar, he said, was the product of Western "prejudice against Arab Islamic states." He did not mention the allegations of graft, corruption, bribery and other misdeeds, such as the systematic abuse of migrant workers that would likely lead to thousands of deaths of construction workers.
Blatter maintained his iron grip on FIFA power by following the best practices of 19th Century American political bosses. He was able to buy votes. Under FIFA's voting system, revised in 2011, each of the 209 member countries has an equal vote -- Montserrat, Samoa, Tahiti, Bhutan, Guam, Togo, Chad, Seychelles, each with a modest population, has the same single vote as China with a population of 1.36 billion. To insure political support for FIFA's leadership, FIFA made grants from its substantial largess in about equal amounts to each member country, thus disproportionately favoring smaller countries. When it was time to vote, those favored countries remembered the source of their most-favored-nation status.
The transition to a transparent system of organizing and regulating world football will not be easy, especially as the number of indicted officials increases, something that seems quite likely. If there is evidence that Russia and Qatar bribed voters to obtain their World Cups, their statuses will be placed in doubt, although it is likely too late to alter plans for 2018. The potential for conflict between the major football playing countries, like England, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil and Italy, and the less significant countries may be impossible to avoid. The major football-playing countries were the nations that threatened to blow up the FIFA World Cup by creating an alternate world tournament. Those with a pragmatic and accomplished understanding of the structures of the world's premier sport should be busy formulating the architecture of this new football world. The hundred or so countries that only dream of making it to a World Cup are not likely to be benefited by whatever new world order is devised.
As usual, football fans have been left out of the mix. No one has asked them whether FIFA should be thoroughly deloused. We should not doubt the importance of football in the lives of everyday people who wear their colors proudly. While they certainly would not endorse the alleged racketeering of the FIFA Mafia, they have other priorities. They want nothing to interfere with the matches as scheduled.
It is too early to celebrate. Many criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors have their work cut out for them. There will be efforts made to "flip" the many who will be accused and discover more wrongdoing in the process. This cleansing exercise will only go on once, and any institution that has fallen into corrupt alleyways can do so again if the infection is not totally cut out.
In the meanwhile, it is too early to book your flights to Qatar. It will not be surprising if the reformed FIFA under new leadership were to revote on what country will host the 2022 World Cup. Think of all the lives of the South Asian migrant workers that will be saved!
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more