I think even Kim Jong il woud be envious of the uninterrupted reign of Sepp Blatter.
He and his father, Kim il Sung’s combined 37 year rule of North Korea have isolated that country and created an international crisis group that deals with that country’s nuclear weapons. Blatter and his mentor Joao Havelange have ruled FIFA for 35 years. They have made the world’s largest organization (FIFA has more member nations than the UN) their personal fiefdom.
The bad news is that Blatter wants to run again in 2011.
This was a man who was former president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders, an organization formed to protest “women replacing suspender belts with pantyhose .” He did not stray too far from that underlying philosophy as FIFA president when he said women players should wear tighter knickers as it was more attractive to the female aesthetic.
Showing more leg may be the name of the game but under Blatter, the FIFA does not reveal its hands. It has all the transparency of a hedge fund. Under his watch the ISL bribing scandal occurred when it was revealed that payments of over $100 million were made from 1989 to 2001 to sports officials and others to secure TV and marketing rights.
ISL (International Sports and Leisure) was FIFA’s marketing partner and enjoyed extensive connections with that organization for over 20 years. The scandal erupted when it was revealed that $75 million which was to be paid to FIFA for the TV rights of the 2002 World Cup was withheld by ISL who was cash strapped and shortly went belly up, over $300 million in debt. The decision to protect ISL so close to the World Cup as stated by Urs Linsi, FIFA’s former finance director “was a higher-level decision within Fifa not to put too much pressure on ISL.” There was only one level higher than Linsi – president Blatter.
Blatter survived the ISL scandal mainly because of his friendship with powerful wheeler dealers like Jack Warner, one of FIFA’s vice presidents and Julio Grondona, AFA president who wield enormous clout within the CONCACAF and CONMEBOL voting blocs. Warner has a long laundry list which includes black market ticket sales to the tune of $1 million and withholding promised payments to the Soca Warriors after the 2006 World Cup.
It is not just nepotism that rims the corridors of FIFA but Blatter has used the FIFA as bully pulpit especially to subjugate smaller and less powerful countries. FIFA imposed a ban on high altitude matches after Brazil and Argentina complained about playing in Bolivia and Ecuador. Disputes within federations or government interference are almost always settled in knee jerk fashion, suspending smaller countries from international competition. So as Kenya, Iran, Greece, Peru were suspended, Spain escaped sanctions.
FIFA’s awarding of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa can be counted as one of Blatter’s noteworthy accomplishments but the vote of confidence has been extremely controversial and conditional. It is actually four years late as the original plan was to stage the 2006 World Cup in SA but in what is now widely believed to be a rigged process, the bid was scuttled and Germany was awarded the World Cup. Blatter has used a carrot and stick approach to SA’s preparation for the World Cup, publicly supportive of its efforts but not quite tamping down rumours of a 11th moment Australian or USA takeover.
The overall impression of FIFA is that it is a pyramid where all the power is concentrated at the top, in the hands of a powerful few, in a very opaque way. It is strangely disconnected from the more egalitarian roots of the global game. Sepp Blatter has done very little to change that course. Before reforming the game, FIFA should reform itself, starting with term limits for its office holders. Blatter should take that lead.