Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

For now, out of a job

For 90 days, as FIFA corruption allegations are investigated, the three biggest bosses of football have been kicked out of the game, reports Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Al-Ahram Weekly

Even for FIFA, this has been an extraordinary week. President Sepp Blatter, Vice-President Michel Platini and Secretary-General Jerome Valcke have all been suspended for 90 days while corruption allegations are investigated.

They all deny any wrongdoing and Blatter and Platini have appealed against their bans and believe they will be exonerated.

World football’s governing body was already facing an FBI probe and an investigation by the Swiss attorney general. But now the crisis has extended to the heart of FIFA’s leadership — the most powerful man in the sport and the second in command. It’s raising serious questions as to just how FIFA can continue to hobble on like this.

This could be a defining moment for FIFA, the tipping point many are expecting. Many are hoping this is the cathartic moment FIFA needs if it wants its credibility restored.

Reports that Blatter and Platini would face an investigation emerged soon after the pair were swooped upon for questioning by Swiss police after a FIFA executive committee meeting in September. The ethics committee had been summoned to meet in what was described as barely-hidden secrecy to assess the questions hanging over Blatter, Platini and other senior football figures. Blatter’s room for manoeuvre in particular appears to be minimal; he is the subject of a Swiss criminal investigation over alleged mismanagement. This included an under-valued TV rights sale and a ‘disloyal payment’ to Platini for work which the Frenchman claims was undertaken appropriately for FIFA between 1999 and 2002, shortly before Platini voted for Blatter to stay as president. But Platini has consistently failed to offer a plausible explanation over why it was not paid until nine years later, and at an extremely delicate time for the organisation.

After Swiss criminal proceedings opened against Blatter, major sponsors Coca-Cola, Visa, Budweiser and McDonald’s called for him to go immediately. That was a significant development: the people who pay FIFA were now demanding a change, and since the lack of money can speak just as loudly as the cash itself, they will probably get a change.

Despite the sponsors’ threat, Blatter said he would not resign, and he didn’t have to – he was served up the 90-ban, particularly galling for Blatter because it was imposed by FIFA’s own ethics committee which is known to be Blatter’s baby. That was a major blow, for the committee to turn against Blatter and his most high-profile deputy.

A 90-day suspension can be topped up by a further 45 days. In any case a 90-day ban would debar Blatter from chairing the crucial executive committee meeting set for early in December in which a decision must be made on the agenda for the extraordinary elective congress on 26 February which is due to choose his successor. Also now in question is whether it is possible to pursue the reform proposals work which Blatter had set under way or whether it will have to be put on hold pending the election of a president of what is now essentially a leaderless game.

In the absence of its most senior figures, Confederation of African Football President Issa Hayatou has taken temporary charge of FIFA. The Cameroonian, 69, is FIFA’s most senior vice-president and has been in the role since 1992. So he was next in line to take over, although Hayatou himself is no angel. In 2011 he was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee in 2011 over allegations he accepted bribes for World Cup TV rights in the 1990s; he has also faced allegations of accepting bribes related to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid; and earlier this year he controversially oversaw changes to the body’s rules on age limits so he could continue into the next decade.

However, Hayatou has pledged to serve as FIFA head only on an interim basis, thus minimising any further damage he might do to FIFA, given his history.  

Platini is still hoping to replace Blatter at the top of FIFA when Blatter steps down as president in February. Many had put FIFA’s future in the hands of Platini and saw him as a figure to lead it out of the crisis. However, Platini himself has a big problem because he too has been suspended. He has confirmed his application for the presidency but can he run? There are two problems. Firstly, the deadline to put in your nomination for the FIFA presidential election is 26 October; by that date, Platini would still be banned. Then, there’s the matter of whether anybody who has been suspended can stand as president of FIFA. It is only logical for FIFA to suspend individuals while an investigation is ongoing.

The new leader, Platini or otherwise, needs to be somebody with integrity, above suspicion. After such a large number of years of corruption, and with such a hefty portion of those at the highest point of the game banned, under investigation or shamed, a void now exists at the highest echelon of world football.

Football needs a choice of strong candidates beyond reproach who have impeachable character and no baggage — even if that means looking for someone outside of the sport. It just seems that everybody involved in the running of the game is implicated in some way, or is certainly suspicious in some way. The decay in the FIFA leadership is so extensive that there are no longer credible alternatives to choose from within.

So FIFA should consider a new credible external presidential candidate of high integrity to replace Blatter. Additionally, the calls for a fully independent, external reform commission get louder every day.

Meanwhile FIFA’s Executive Committee will hold an extraordinary meeting in Zurich on 20 October to discuss the corruption crisis which has engulfed the governing body. There are reports that it might delay the election of its next president. A delay could make it easier for Platini to be a candidate if he succeeds in his appeal against his ban from the game.

As it stands, the election nominations need to be provided by 26 October and prospective candidates need to pass – yes — an integrity check based on — of all things — FIFA’s Ethics Code.

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