In a surreal press conference attended by only a handful of journalists who had hung on after the completion of last Friday’s FIFA presidential election, Sepp Blatter finally gave up. In front of stunned faces, FIFA president Blatter announced that he is stepping down from his role and that an extraordinary meeting will be held to appoint a new president. The sudden change of heart by Blatter is puzzling but today’s revelation of an US led investigation focused on his involvements into the current FIFA corruption scandal could have been the deciding factor. Added into that, rumours that the testimony of former FIFA member turned FBI informant Chuck Blazer could be unclassified in the next few days and released into the public domain could have influenced Blatter into making this decision.
His decision to go now only four days after sealing re-election gained a mixed reaction from the international footballing community. Many were delighted at the news of his imminent departure, with the realistic notion that now changes could now be made to FIFA for the betterment of football. Others especially in Blatter friendly countries across Asia and Africa reacted with sadness, claiming that conspiracies and a witch hunt had forced Blatter out. The sad truth though is that Blatter saw the end coming well before the election result was called last Friday. He firmly believed rightly or wrongly that by winning the election he would reunited the memberships of FIFA once more behind him, but after the arrests of last week the chances of that happening disappeared out the door. Blatter is at heart an egotistical man, who savoured the victory over Ali with the same pizzazz as Mayweather did over Pacquiao in their heavyweight boxing match last month. But with the US noose tightening around his neck, Blatter knew he had to quit before he was forcibly dragged from his position. By quitting on his own terms, he could build on the idea that he was a good man, resigning for the sake of world football and the sport he has cherished for over forty years.
Blatter however is anything but a good man. Having turned a blind eye for decades to the corruption and illegal activities happening under his watch at FIFA, he is simply put a criminal. Whilst the Swiss authorities are reluctant to go after Blatter, the US authorities are not; preferring to use a series of plead bargain deals with lower level executives to eventually get their man. The FBI is continuing its investigation with the hope of finding enough evidence to strike FIFA at its jugular and arrest Blatter. This process however will take time, time that Blatter will use to reform FIFA by implementing new guidelines and practices in an attempt to correct years of misgivings. Many speculate that this is a deliberate ploy by Blatter to cover up a lot of the connections he had to the illegal activities across FIFA and destroy any evidence that could be used against him in an investigation.
Blatter’s resignation however does raise a new question of who will replace him. In his resignation speech, Blatter called for FIFA not to unnecessarily delay the election until the next FIFA congress in Mexico next May, instead calling for an extraordinary congress to find his successor. It is expected that this will happen between December 2015 and March 2016, with Blatter remaining in charge until that point. There are several candidates who could potentially replace Blatter and more adding their names to the list by the day. Former footballers David Ginola, Zico, Luis Figo and UEFA president Michel Platini are all likely to run, along with establish political figures in football like Prince Ali, Jerome Champagne, Michael Van Praag and Issa Hayatou. Former Manchester United chief executive David Gill has also been touted as a possibility. Gill was elected to FIFA’s executive committee earlier this year, only to reject the post after Blatter’s re-election last Friday. With Blatter now leaving, Gill has dramatically changed his mind and will take up his new post but several well-known faces in football are now encouraging him to up the ante and run instead for the presidents job. FIFA will vet all the candidates over the next few months with a final list eventually presented to the FIFA members in advance of the election. Regardless of who the final candidates will be, each one will need to present a unified manifesto to the delegates that will help swing their votes. Not an easy challenge considering how divided the football world is at this time.
Take into consideration Africa, a continent that commands 54 of the 209 votes and one that has been faithfully loyal to Blatter for over 20 years. Their loyalty was not necessarily bought using bribe money but instead by promises made by Blatter to invest in football in Africa, promises that he has faithfully kept. He helped develop grassroots football in impoverished countries as well as bring the continent its first World Cup, held in South Africa in 2010. Reports from journalists inside Ghana have reported that the African delegates are keen to vote in someone who shares the same philosophies and ideals as Blatter to ensure that Africa does not get left behind as it has been in the past. Rightly they want to ensure that the FIFA monies continue to flow into Africa so that development can continue. Any potential successor would be wise to build his or her manifesto with this in mind as the African votes could be a major decider in who is to follow Blatter in the presidents chair.
Replacing Blatter and putting FIFA back on the right tracks will not be an easy task. Like a foul odour that has ingrained itself into the furniture, ridding FIFA of Blatter’s legacy will be a tough challenge. It will take years, not months to fully get FIFA back on the straight and narrow and potentially longer to reinstall faith in the troubled organization. The arrests made last week were merely the tip of a very large iceberg with further arrests likely in the coming weeks and months. To date the investigation stretches back to the early nineties but could go back further to the early seventies when Blatter’s predecessor Joao Havelange was in power. Blatter learned much from the Brazilian during his early years at FIFA and was influenced heavily by him. It’s not hard to assume that some of FIFA’s illegal practices were already in place when Blatter took control so he may not be fully responsible for this. However as president for the last 17 years, it was Blatter who was ultimately responsible for the continuation and development of these illegal practices. His resignation may spell an end to them or it may just be the beginning of a new chapter in FIFA’s long lasting corruption story.