The Rise and Fall of Sepp Blatter
1998: The Blatter Reign Begins
After 17 years as the top deputy to the retiring Joao Havelange, Sepp Blatter is elected FIFA president in 1998 in a close vote over a Swedish rival, Lennart Johansson. Charges of widespread bribery quickly emerge, but nothing sticks.
2001: ‘Clumsy’ Conduct
FIFA’s marketing partner, the Swiss company International Sport and Leisure (I.S.L.), collapses into bankruptcy with debts of more than $100 million, putting FIFA in financial peril and threatening to cost Blatter, then nearing the end of his first term as president, his job. Investigations by the Swiss authorities and — belatedly — by FIFA later document tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks to FIFA executives in commercial deals with the organization, but Blatter is not implicated. The FIFA report calls his conduct “clumsy” but declares it did not involve “criminal or ethical misconduct.”
2002: Challenge From Within
Blatter’s chief deputy, General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen, submits a dossier to the Swiss authorities on behalf of other Executive Committee members that accuses Blatter of financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest and abuse of power. Blatter seems more concerned with keeping the issue in house; in April 2002 he acknowledges that he ended an investigation into FIFA’s finances to preserve the confidentiality of several members accused of wrongdoing. Zen-Ruffinen loses the power struggle and leaves FIFA.
2002: Re-election Despite Accusations
Despite the revolt of several of his top lieutenants and the new accusations of bribery, Blatter wins re-election over an African challenger, Issa Hayatou.
2004: Code of “Ethics”
FIFA releases its first code of ethics. Prior to that, as noted in a 2013 report on the I.S.L. scandal, it had no ethics rules whatsoever.
2006: Profit, But No Punishment
The FIFA vice president Jack Warner, the president of the Trinidad and Tobago soccer federation, is accused of a massive fraud involving the resale of tickets to the World Cup in Germany through a travel company controlled by his family. FIFA later clears Warner, who reportedly made a $1 million profit, and merely expresses “disapproval” at his conduct.
2007: Third Time the Charm
Blatter runs unopposed for a third term, having thwarted several potential challengers as he fortified a bloc of support that serves him still. While soccer’s financial might — its richest clubs and competitions – is in Europe, FIFA’s rules give every country in the world the same voice in the presidential vote. That means a candidate doesn’t need Germany if he already has the votes of, say, Guinea, Guatemala, Guyana and Guam. Blatter has mastered the strategy to maintain his grip on power. Year after year he crisscrosses the globe to attend conferences, schmooze officials and – perhaps most important – deliver FIFA money for local development projects.
2010: Bigger and Bigger Scandals
Accusations of bribery, financial mismanagement and World Cup bid-rigging – though surely present before Blatter took office — had become alarmingly commonplace by his third term. The bidding process to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups brought out even more. Critics pointed out that the decision to award two World Cups at once was flawed from the start, since it would invite vote-trading and other inducements, and that is exactly what happened. Competing bidders cut deals to support one another, and two members of the governing Executive Committee — Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti — were suspended before the vote could take place after an investigation by The Sunday Times caught both men on tape asking for payments in exchange for their support. It was later revealed by England’s bid chief that four ExCo members had solicited bribes from him for their votes; one asked for $2.5 million, while another requested a knighthood. When FIFA finally mounted an ethics investigation after Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) won the hosting rights, it declared that while violations of the code of ethics had occurred, they had not affected the integrity of the vote. The investigator who had done the research, the former United States attorney Michael J. Garcia, promptly quit in protest.
2011: Another Crisis, Another Term
A year later came a new crisis. It began weeks before the FIFA presidential election when a FIFA vice president, the Concacaf president Jack Warner, arranged a meeting of Caribbean soccer officials with the presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar. Bin Hammam, a supporter of Blatter’s in his first presidential campaigns, had challenged him for the presidency, and the meeting in May 2010 at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, was ostensibly an opportunity for bin Hammam to seek support from potential voters. The problem was that one delegate, Fred Lunn of the Bahamas, received an envelope with $40,000 inside. He reported the offer, and took a picture of the money before returning it. Nearly three dozen officials were later either barred or suspended by FIFA as a result of the payments. Bin Hammam dropped out of the race, and Blatter was elected to a fourth term — again with no opposition. By the time all the punishments had been handed out, the scandals of 2010 and 2011 had led to the ouster or resignation of the presidents of four of FIFA’s six regional confederations.
2011: Talking His Way Into Trouble
While Blatter is clearly a master political strategist, his verbal missteps at times earned him a reputation as something closer to a crazy uncle. He has suggested, despite volumes of evidence to the contrary, that there is no racism in soccer, and that even if there is, that players should just “shake hands” and move on if it occurs. He also has proposed that gay fans planning to attend the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is a crime, merely “refrain from any sexual activities” while in the Arab emirate, and opined that women’s soccer would be more popular if only the players would wear “tighter shorts.” Each time, the outcry over his comments produced an apology from Blatter.
2015: Arrests in Zurich
Early Wednesday morning, authorities in Switzerland and elsewhere began an operation to arrest 14 soccer officials and sports executives on corruption charges that the police said dated back decades. Those indicted included several current and former members of FIFA’s executive committee and a host of other figures. The police also seized electronic data and documents at FIFA headquarters in Zurich and Concacaf headquarters in Florida.
Today: The Blatter Reign Ends
Sepp Blatter said Tuesday that he would resign from the presidency of FIFA in the wake of a corruption inquiry. He said he would ask FIFA to schedule a new election for his replacement as soon as possible. The next FIFA congress is May 2016, but Mr. Blatter acknowledged that FIFA could not wait very long for new leadership given the current situation. At a brief, hastily called news conference in Zurich, Blatter said that “FIFA needs a profound restructuring.” “I appreciate and love FIFA more than anything else,” he said. “And I only want to do the best for FIFA.” Mr. Blatter declined to take questions after his remarks.
Source: The New York Times
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