By J Hutcherson (Oct 5, 2015) US Soccer Players – The only person within FIFA the organization can’t dismiss as a bad actor is its sitting president, Sepp Blatter. Not that the man in charge makes it easy. Blatter is FIFA as we know it, making himself synonymous with the organization as long as he chooses to be. It’s his FIFA, carrying that mandate he kept referencing when setting his own term limit instead of immediately resigning. Blatter isn’t supposed to stay in charge past February, but getting from here to there is going to be interesting.
A few days ago, Blatter publicly dismissed sponsor calls for his immediate resignation. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. The idea that sponsors would determine FIFA’s immediate future got a lot of play during the last presidential election, but ultimately? Sponsors don’t have a vote within FIFA. They’re not the constituency that determines the presidency. Their purpose isn’t the same.
So Blatter’s lawyer immediately confirmed that sponsors pushing for change wouldn’t be forcing FIFA’s hand. This wasn’t exactly news. Then again, very little of what Blatter has done in recent months really is. He’s working through the expected scenario. Social media had some fun with Blatter promises from 2011 that still apply today, but again that’s part of the point.
Blatter did significant work in designing the bureaucracy that forms FIFA, again no surprise. He’s held key positions for so long it would be tough to imagine him not doing that work. It was certainly necessary as the organization moved from one stage to the next. The amount of money world soccer generates changed FIFA and Blatter was one of the key administrators tasked with pushing the organization forward.
As Blatter likes to remind us, what he never did was elect the Executive Committee. FIFA’s reliance on committees is certainly not unique, of course. It’s how some of those Executive Committee members operated over the years that threw all of FIFA into turmoil. Blatter’s insistence that the organization wasn’t the problem, switching the focus to the bad actors within FIFA, only works if there are good actors left in key positions.
That’s Blatter’s challenge as he continues to hold onto power. He has to convince that there’s enough left to salvage. That gets tougher the more the general public knows. It’s not just what FIFA deems allowable, it’s the investigations and the rumors turning into allegations. It’s the weight, pressing against a perfect world version of FIFA as an uncorrupted organization.
Blatter himself probably sees the value in becoming an easy target. He takes his place in the narrative to deflect just enough criticism from the organization. Blatter’s insistence on the organization isn’t surprising. It’s his life’s work, what he built over all those years of meetings and bureaucracy.
Few would give that up easily. It’s no surprise that Blatter hasn’t. The biggest picture version of the FIFA we know is his, after all. That’s the single biggest problem the organization faces with or without him. The structure isn’t designed to fundamentally change because that’s never an issue within its own narrative. The wide sketches we’ve heard about the latest FIFA reform movement is still stuck in that same structure. Term limits within that structure. More scrutiny within that structure. Always that structure.
Angry sponsors combining with angry fans and angry soccer politicians creates easy headlines. What it doesn’t is necessarily lead to those fundamental changes. Blatter under fire doesn’t necessarily mean the structure of FIFA under any more scrutiny. World soccer has already shown a willingness to accept some version of FIFA as we already know it. So does Blatter’s FIFA.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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