FIFA and the entire soccer world were shocked on this week when U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the indictment of 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives on corruption charges that include bribery, fraud, and money laundering.
Even amid the wide-ranging international scandal, Sepp Blatter’s reelection on Friday to a fifth term as president of FIFA came relatively easily, with his opponent, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, conceding defeat after losing the first round of voting by FIFA’s congress 133 to 73. But the extension of Blatter’s time in office also comes at a difficult time for FIFA as an organization.
Blatter addressed the media and then took questions at a press conference Saturday in Zurich. His responses to reporters’ questions may not have been particularly revelatory, but the questions asked — almost exclusively by British media — neatly circumscribe the issues at play in FIFA’s current crisis.
1. Do the FIFA indictments by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch doom the chances of a U.S.-hosted World Cup in 2016?
Blatter’s answer is a magnanimous “no,” but the perception that FIFA decisions are essentially political — when they’re not purchased outright — is what lies at the heart of the corruption accusations.
2. If so much corruption has allegedly taken place on Blatter’s watch, shouldn’t he have to resign?
Blatter cites his own reelection as evidence that the answer to that question is also “no.” But the fact remains that, even without facing formal charges, Blatter’s role in FIFA corruption is never far from mind.
3. What message does Blatter have for David Gill, Britain’s FIFA vice-president, who resigned Friday rather than serve on the FIFA executive committee with Blatter? Gill also refused to represent the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) as long as Blatter remains in charge.
Though Blatter was initially reserved in his answer, his closing statements criticizing how the UEFA polices itself for corruption — and chastising Gill for not showing up to Friday’s executive committee meeting — were more animated than any of his answers during the press conference. The indictments this week came on top of FIFA’s deteriorating relationship with its European confederation.
4. The U.S. indictment mentions that a senior FIFA executive authorized a $10 million bribe. Is Blatter the executive in question? If not, shouldn’t he at least have known about a deal of that size?
Blatter denies any knowledge of or connection to a $10 million bribe.
5. Is he concerned that more arrests are expected? And given the proximity of the first round of arrests to him, does he feel at all targeted?
Blatter insists that he has no involvement in any corruption, so he has no fear regarding an expanding investigation.
In an interview on Swiss television, Blatter dismissed the American investigation as being designed to skew the FIFA presidential election, citing bitterness over losing the hosting of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Nonetheless, some of the FIFA scandal’s most dramatic energy is tied to the possibility that Blatter, who has headed the organization since 1998, could get taken down now that the indictments have struck a blow to the core of a powerful, wealthy global group.
6. Is the scandal of these indictments enough to scare away FIFA’s sponsors?
Major sponsors like McDonald’s, Coco-Cola, and Adidas have all expressed concerns about FIFA’s integrity, with Visa insisting that FIFA “makes changes now” or risk losing Visa’s support. Blatter says he will personally visit with the sponsors, but whether multinational corporations are really so offended by potentially corrupt practices within a sports organization is a matter of some debate.
7. If Blatter doesn’t take the American charges and investigation seriously, and he can’t point to a good track record of prosecuting corruption in the past, how can anyone believe his reassurances now?
Blatter had a lot to say about the need for better accountability in the lower levels of the FIFA hierarchy, in the national associations and regional federations, and paints a picture of an organization-wide effort to reform. He explained that he is not responsible for policing those organizations and even complains that they (UEFA, specifically) can hinder reforms proposed by the executive committee. Whether that answer can survive the specificity of American charges remains to be seen.