criminal investigation into actions by Sepp Blatter, the embattled, and soon-to-be-former, head of FIFA, international soccer’s governing body.It felt inevitable but still comes as a bit of a surprise: Swiss authorities announced they have started a
For those of you who don’t follow soccer, this is a big deal.
In May, the U.S Justice Department announced the indictments of nine international soccer executives and five sports marketing and broadcasting figures in an alleged 25-year, $150-million racketeering and bribery scheme involving staging and broadcasting games and tournaments, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Investigators have already wrestled guilty pleas from four other men and two sports-marketing businesses; they apparently have been cooperating with investigators.
Blatter has maintained that he was involved in nothing illicit and said he would try to root out the corruption in the ranks below him. Granting him the presumption of innocence, he still was the guy in charge. As a mark of the corruption at the core of FIFA, Blatter was reelected to a fifth term as FIFA president even after the indictments of the lower-level officials, and amid a swirl of speculation about impropriety in awarding the 2018 World Cup games to Russia and the 2022 World Cup games to tiny Qatar (which had no infrastructure nor a significant soccer culture)
The new investigation targeting Blatter involves “suspicion of criminal mismanagement as well as -- alternatively -- on suspicion of misappropriation,” according to Swiss Atty. Gen. Michael Lauber:
“On the one hand, the [office of the attorney general] suspects that on 12 September 2005 Mr. Joseph [Sepp] Blatter has signed a contract with the Caribbean Football Union (with Jack Warner as the President at this time); this contract was unfavorable for FIFA. On the other hand, there is as suspicion that, in the implementation of this agreement, Joseph Blatter also violated his fiduciary duties and acted against the interest of FIFA and/or FIFA Marketing & TV AG.
“Additionally, Mr. Joseph Blatter is suspected of a disloyal payment of [$2 million] to Michel Platini, President of Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), at the expense of FIFA, which was allegedly made for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002; this payment was executed in February 2011.”
The mention of Platini is interesting as well. A former player and coach, Platini is running to succeed Blatter as FIFA president, and is considered the institutional favorite. Under FIFA’s election rules, candidates have until Oct. 26 to gather the support of at least five of FIFA’s 209 member nations to qualify.
Whether FIFA would opt for someone touched by this expanding scandal is the big question. It reelected Blatter after the initial indictments and as the investigatory clouds were forming over him, so there’s a history of turning a deaf ear to public outrage over the conduct of top-level FIFA officials.
But member nations electing someone involved with, or under, an active investigation is another matter. To do so would suggest the corruption runs too deep to be eradicated. But to look elsewhere for an untainted new president might signal a serious intent to clean up the internal mess.
Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle