These are rough times for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. After decades of acting with impunity, engaging in alleged widespread fraud, bribery and corruption, the hammer has come down on several highly placed officials and even more are under scrutiny. Following last week’s arrests in an ongoing joint U.S./Swiss investigation, FIFA officials and some of their business counterparts all over the world are likely nervously awaiting what happens next.
There have been surprises. While the arrests and raid were the biggest surprises of all (so far), FIFA President Sepp Blatter created a plot twist of his own when he announced earlier this week that he will be resigning from the governance giant. Blatter has clung to power since 1998, and until now, the notion he would resign was all but unthinkable among his many critics. In fact, he had just won re-election in a defiant refusal to postpone or cancel the election altogether.
Yet the situation continued to change and become more toxic within days, and soon Blatter was singing a new tune. On Tuesday, Blatter said he would step down as soon as a suitable replacement could be chosen. As the New York Times observed:
“Given Mr. Blatter’s sudden, and unexpected, change of heart, soccer officials around the world were left with two overarching questions on Tuesday night: First, what changed between Friday and Tuesday to persuade Mr. Blatter to resign? And with his departure from the body that oversees the world’s most popular sport, what will happen next to both him and the organization?”
There were other new developments this week, as well:
- Jack Warner, one of the highest-ranking FIFA officials to be indicted, claims he will spill FIFA’s darkest secrets, and says he is in fear of his life. Warner has launched a PR offensive and, in a latest paid advertisement, he would "no longer keep secrets for those persons who now seek actively to destroy this country's hard-won international image."
- Ireland FA chief executive John Delaney made an explosive charge: Five years ago, in a World Cup qualifying game against France, the difference-maker was a clear non-call handball that buried Ireland’s chances to move on to the World Cup. Delaney says he was paid off – bribed, clearly – to agree not to protest the result through legal channels. It was an agreement he said that was made with Sepp Blatter.
- Russian president Vladimir Putin initially leapt to an aggressive defense of Sepp Blatter and FIFA, claiming U.S. meddling and geo-political motives for the investigation, but Blatter’s announcement of resignation has somewhat neutered Putin’s standing in the affair. In response to the latest news, Russia doggedly insists the country will continue preparing for the 2018 World Cup. “It’s too late to stop now” will likely be there continuing refrain for as things progress.
Stay tuned as this scandal evolves. It seems likely that there are several more surprises in store. When it comes to fraud, bribery, and corruption, FIFA officials have had decades to write the book. Now, perhaps, we are finally getting to read it.