FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The abrupt fall of world soccer’s emperor, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, has been the central event of the week. Only last Friday, 79-year-old Blatter was reelected for a fifth term as president of FIFA, the body that governs world soccer. Mind you, before ascending to the presidency in 1998 – succeeding Joao Havelange, who enjoyed a 24-year reign in the post – Blatter had been the organization’s general secretary since 1981. He had, as he said in his resignation speech on Tuesday, devoted his life to soccer – and soccer had handsomely rewarded him.
The number of people with any knowledge of the game who were genuinely sorry to see Blatter go is probably identical to the number who thought that when FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, no bribery or corruption was involved. Russia, at least, is a serious soccer and sporting nation; indeed, it is a nation, period. Qatar is nothing more than a family business that has become unimaginably wealthy and thence immeasurably megalomaniacal.
There have been endless rumors, reports, investigative articles and plain tittle-tattle surrounding FIFA for more years than I care to recall. The rot goes back well before the Russia award – South Africa’s hosting the games in 2010 is also believed to have been achieved through dubious means – and, in fairness to Blatter, it may be recalled that Havelange’s era was also marked by reports of excess and suspicions of pocket-lining.
But, in soccer as in so many areas, the excesses of the Eighties and the naughtiness of the Nineties seem childishly innocent compared with the gross trampling of all norms that is now commonplace. What is shocking about the FIFA scandal is not that the top people were bribed and that nations competing for the honor of (wasting vast sums of public money by) hosting the World Cup planned their campaigns on the basis of systematic bribery. Rather, it is that, after all these years, something is being done about it.
There is bitter irony in the fact that it is the Americans, of all people – to whom what the world calls football is just soccer, and hence unimportant – who have blown away the tattered FIFA façade and thereby done more for the game than all the FIFA executives collectively did in two decades of Blatter. Even more ironic is their motive, which surely has nothing to do with “the good of the game.”
It is widely assumed that the US is deconstructing FIFA in the knowledge that this will lead to the 2018 games being taken away from Russia – and thereby inflict the greatest imaginable public humiliation on Vladimir Putin. No military defeat could possibly do greater damage to the man who spent no less than $50 billion tarting up an obscure Black Sea resort called Sochi to host the Winter Olympics in 2014. The Qatari debacle, which is even more certain, is just the icing on the cake… Clearly, this mega-scandal goes far beyond sport, apparently reaching into the highest levels of global geopolitics. It is, of course, also – some would say first and foremost – very big business. But the use of the Department of Justice to nail FIFA bribe takers because the money passed through American banks is not merely cynical power politics and yet another demonstration of how the US misuses its currency’s central role in world finance. All of these aspects are for sophisticated adults.
They are lost on the average soccer fan, who is six or 16 years old and knows more about Messi, Lamm and Pirlo than about Obama, Putin or even Blatter. The takeaway from this episode, for the bloke on the Clapham omnibus and his counterparts around the world, for young louts in crumbling suburbs from Berlin to Buenos Aires and even for kids from Copacabana beach to the Kop at Anfield, is clear and devastating: “They” are screwing “us” again.
The fat cats are not just selling or pillaging our country for their own self-aggrandizement, but have gutted even our game – which is far more than mere entertainment, rather a fundamental part of our identity, at the local and national level. So whoever brought them down, and for whatever reason and through whichever methods – good on you! That is why the fall of FIFA is a potentially significant event in the developing global crisis. That crisis, as has been repeatedly noted here, is not about unemployment, or police brutality, or banks rigging markets, or any of the plethora of news items that fill the media daily.
These are merely symptoms, in different areas of public and private life – such as jobs, law and order, finance – of the underlying issue at the heart of the crisis.
That is the loss of belief in the institutions and persons created for and empowered with the task of making society function. Whether it’s FIFA or the Fed, once credibility is lost, collapse is just a matter of time.www.pinchaslandau.com