New fans of soccer always ask: who is that balding gremlin with glasses in a gray suit that everybody complains about? Oh, he’s the life-elect President of FIFA, we moan back. What’s so bad about him, shoots the next question? Well, we say, he’s exploited the largess of FIFA profits to manipulate a one country-one vote system and buy a near eternal seat of power. Plus, he says stupid and offensive things every 2-3 months.
Still, what really gets our collective goat is the feeling he has misled us. Here are just a few times Blatter’s words did not match his actions:
The 2011 FIFA Presidential election was pretty heated and the first in ages to be contested. Sepp Blatter made a now common promise: he admitted FIFA had some problems and needed to be reformed. However, he claimed that he was the man to reform FIFA. He made several promises to change a variety of things. However, four years later, the FBI arrested several FIFA officals for a “World Cup of fraud.”
Another famous Blatter reelection promise is that this time, with God as his witness, he will be serving his last term. For example, in 2011, Blatter stated that he would absolutely, unequivocally step down after four years. This promise, of course, serves two goals: first, he mobilizes his base. FA’s should run to vote for him so he can give them one last round of cash via “football development” projects. It also softens the blow for the opposition: he may be bad, but he’s only here for one more brief spell.
Here’s the problem: he ran for reelection in 2015 and won. D’oh.
FIFA has spent some serious money as of late on outside consultants to “address corruption.” First, they consulted with Transparency International in 2011 to allegedly reform the organization’s structure. Second, they formed a committee in 2013 that made numerous suggestions. However, of the 59 recommendations, only 7 have been fully implemented. That’s a pretty low statistic, even as compared to a National League pitcher’s batting average.
If you were offered the consulting job by FIFA, you would accept it in a flash. First, the pay would be amazing. Governance expert Mark Pieth was paid $5,000 per day, plus a six figure fee. Second, this assignment looks like shooting fish in a barrel. Any half-decent idea could conceivably make FIFA look less corrupt? Plus, Blatter promised to hire folks from outside football.
FIFA did hire folks from outside football, but here’s the catch: the good ones resigned. In 2013, Alexandre Wrage, an independent government expert, resigned because working on the committee was “the least productive project [she’s] ever been involved in.” Former US prosecutor Michael Garcia resigned after FIFA edited his final report on the ISL scandal beyond recognition. What good is hiring reformers if they get tossed into an unproductive and sabotaged assembly line or their final product is altered?
After the FBI arrests in June, Sepp Blatter said he was stepping down from FIFA (have we heard that before?). He admitted there were serious problems and he even avoided going to the Women’s World Cup Final in Canada that summer, but was healthy enough to fly to Russia for the men’s qualification draw. Recently, however, he has claimed that football is not so corrupt. So, we ask, why did he twice campaign on promises to reform soccer? Why did the FBI make so many arrests a few months ago?
Only Sepp knows the answers, if that. Rather, Sepp has turned into the master politician and media strategist: like a parrot, he spits out promises at convenient moments and then forgets he made them immediately thereafter. And that, in a nutshell, is why soccer fans hate him.
Elliott writes about soccer at Futfanatico.com. He is the author of An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish, available on iTunes.