Sepp Blatter: Coward Or King?

I am not going to speculate on exactly what the FBI has finally nailed Sepp Blatter for. Suffice it to say, it must be unspeakably awful. And yes, that is the only reason Blatter resigned. It took four hours from the New York Times’ report that Blatter was under investigation for suspected bribery before the king himself resigned.

This was not, as President of UEFA Michel Platini put it, “a brave decision”. It was the decision of a coward who had been backed into an inescapable corner. And who was it that finally cornered the slippery fish? Not a European police force who announced investigations of their own in the aftermath to save face and avoid looking completely impotent. Nor the corporate sponsors that provide much of FIFA’s revenue, who could not have expressed concern more earnestly and pointlessly. But the Attorney General, of course.

Blatter told Swiss television on Friday: “Why would I step down? That would mean I recognise that I did wrong.”

Glad you said it and not I, Sepp.

The time is passed for pointing out Blatter’s contradictions and inconsistencies. Such are their frequency it may once have served as an excellent drinking game. They revealed a mind warped by 17 years at the helm of an organization where reproaches and repercussions were simply not a factor.

The difficulty with Blatter is that much of the time one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

This is a man who commissioned a film about his life (I’m confident it bears little resemblance to the true story despite the film’s protestations) in 2014 called “United Passions”. I am really not lying when I tell you that the IMDB summary for this film is, “The saga of the World Cup and the three wholly honest and deeply ethical men who created it.” It couldn’t be more perfectly ironic. And yet I’m not sure Blatter sees the joke. To laugh or to cry?

This is Blatter rewriting history, tampering with his legacy, and this resignation is the latest manoeuvre in his preservation of it.

While the media jubilantly report that the king is dead, he is very much alive. By announcing his resignation hours before his implication in the FBI’s case was confirmed, Blatter is attempting to paint his departure as a selfless act. Like all of his crass political moves, many will rightly cry foul at its transparency. And yet, it was enough to hoodwink Platini.

Blatter will now use the next six months until a successor is named to embark on salvaging his own reputation from this wreckage. No longer on his FIFA pedestal, he can turn the tables on those who were about to blow the whistle safe in knowing that he is riding off into the sunset. He will likely put himself at the forefront of any root-and-branch review in the hope that he can rewrite that history in a way Tim Roth’s portrayal of him (yes that is the Tim Roth, once of Pulp Fiction and other respectable works) never could. He will no doubt then frantically point to his “central” role in FIFA’s rehabilitation. Never mind the 17 years of looking the other way, Sepp.

On that same, aforementioned Friday, Blatter also remarked sinisterly “I forgive everyone but I don’t forget.” We must also steel our memories to ensure none of the rewrites stick.

Speaking of successors, we must also appreciate that Blatter is far from alone in this stench. While he undoubtedly set the tone at the top, he is likely not the worst offender (see Blazer, Chuck).

UEFA has already valiantly stepped into the role of knights in shining armor.  It is worth remembering that UEFA President Platini voted for Qatar 2022 back in 2010. Better yet, only a few days ago 18 of UEFA’s 53 constituents still voted to re-elect Blatter.

No one is innocent, and Blatter’s removal must not be seen as a cure all.

UEFA sees this as an opportunity to take back the power Blatter and his predecessor Joao Havelange spent 40 years redistributing to the rest of the world. With that redistribution came the bribery and corruption that is rife in the confederations today — the rapid globalization of the game was perhaps too much too soon for some corners of the world — but without it, football could not have claimed to be truly global either.

In the fallout of Blatter’s announcement, the priority must therefore lie in striking a balance that preserves the integrity of football without stunting its growth.

Freddie Williams, UK


Freddie is from London. He works as an M&A manager for a global media communications group, specialising in the financial and market due diligence of investment opportunities. He operates in both established and emerging markets, working out of Mexico, India, New York and Copenhagen within the past year. He left Oxford University in 2010 with a BA in Russian before training as an accountant at PwC. His special interest is Sports.

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