From his election in 1998 to his resignation last night, a look through the WSC archive
3 June ~ Sepp Blatter’s shock announcement last night that he is to resign as FIFA president, amid FBI and Swiss investigations into corruption, bribery and racketeering throughout the organisation. Blatter replaced João Havelange as FIFA president in 1998, beating UEFA candidate Lennart Johansson. Just prior to that election, the editorial to WSC 137 looked closely at how Havelange had overhauled FIFA since ousting Stanley Rous in 1974, including expanding the World Cup to be more inclusive to Africa and Asia.
A month later Blatter had shocked Johansson’s supporters by winning the vote 111 to 80 and been confirmed as Havelange’s successor. In WSC 138, John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson examined how the transition of presidents would affect the direction of FIFA, particularly because Johansson had been beaten after campaigning on the principles of democracy and transparency. While Blatter hailed from Europe, he was Havelange’s protégé and had been hand-picked to work his way up FIFA’s totem pole by the late Horst Dassler, the key architect of the Adidas empire.
Skip forward four years and with another election looming Blatter appeared to be on the ropes. The collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner, ISL, amid claims that Blatter bribed delegates to get elected led to calls from outsiders for reform. Before the 2002 election for WSC 183 Alan Tomlinson examined how FIFA could reform itself, and why it was such a closed shop to outsiders.
Yet just a few months later Alan was reporting on another crushing Blatter win, having polled 139 votes to his African challenger Issa Hayatou’s 56. It was a sign of the firm grip Blatter held on FIFA, marshalling the support of the smaller countries to outscore any alliances of large parts of Europe and Africa that might challenge him. The fallout from the win was immediate, with many who had openly criticised Blatter before the vote ousted from their positions.
By 2008 the pressure from outsiders and law authorities for FIFA to be more accountable was growing. John Sugden sorted through two major developments in WSC 255. The first was a report from One World Trust, which aimed to promote ethical and democratic practice, which highlighted how poor FIFA’s performance was in terms of transparency, participation, evaluation, and complaint and response procedures. The second seemed more significant: after a four-year investigation, six senior executives of ISL faced charges relating to embezzlement and corruption. The trial revealed the full extent of the corruption in an organisation which was extremely close to FIFA.
Still, though, Blatter remained in charge. By the time the next election came around in 2011, his re-election was inevitable despite a Sunday Times investigation “exposing” corruption in the FIFA executive committee. Naturally Blatter’s continued presence at the top of FIFA was greeted with howls of derision in England, yet it was becoming clear, as Guy Oliver explained, that the UK had become the “Millwall” of world football: not liked and not caring.
And so his fifth re-election amid yet another scandal seems to have proved one too far for Blatter, some of the fallout and context to which will be covered in WSC 341, out next week. But what his resignation means for the future of FIFA remains unclear. Tom Hocking