In an announcement that caught the entire football fraternity by surprise, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation on Tuesday. It was only five days ago that Blatter was re-elected as president of FIFA for a fifth term after his only challenger conceded defeat. It was, however, an election overshadowed by allegations of rampant corruption in the world football body. The closest he came in his resignation speech to citing a reason was that “not everybody” supported him. It was, as many observers have argued, a thinly-veiled attack on many Western European football federations that had vehemently opposed his candidature for a fifth term.
The narrative leading up to his resignation involved investigations by the US Justice Department. The federal executive department of the US government had unsealed a damning indictment last week that charged 47 individuals, including top FIFA officials, with bribery, racketeering, money laundering, fraud and other related crimes. While many of the details are still unclear, it appears that many of these alleged crimes were neither committed in the United States nor by U.S. citizens. Swiss authorities, meanwhile, aided the US Justice Department in arresting senior FIFA officials from a hotel in Geneva, a day before voting for the football body’s presidential elections was to take place. Hours after the arrests, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General opened a second, parallel investigation concerning alleged corruption in the bidding process for the 2018 Russia World Cup and the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
These allegations, according to sources close to Blatter, had created an irreparable dent to FIFA’s image. However, another more probable reason behind his resignation could be the apprehension the indictments had created in the minds of FIFA’s leading sponsors. Visa, one of FIFA’s biggest sponsors, has threatened to withdraw its funding and described its “profound disappointment” with football’s governing body. Big ticket sponsors like Nike, Adidas and Coca-Cola also find themselves unwillingly embroiled in a scandal which is sure to hit their stock prices hard. In the ultimate analysis, however, votes for the FIFA president are cast by national football associations. These national associations are, in many places, every bit as unaccountable and corrupt.
Be that as it may, some observers have also argued that the vehement attack on FIFA may lie in the sphere of geopolitics, especially against the US and Western European nations. Under Sepp Blatter, FIFA refused the US government’s demand to throw Iran out of the 2006 World Cup, as part of the latter’s sanctions against the West Asian nation. Matters came to a <g data-gr-id="45">head,</g> when FIFA allowed Palestine to join the global football association. Awarding the World Cup to an African and a Latin American nation, allied with its decision to award to the 2018 World Cup to Russia, has also angered many power brokers within football federations across Western Europe and the Atlantic. There is a lot of corruption in European football that many do not talk about, and certain observers have seen recent events as mere attempts to turn the tables on Blatter and his coterie. Despite his resignation, Blatter isn’t going anywhere.