Fifa may be changing, but it's too early to celebrate a win

Kevin Rafferty says with Blatter seeking to stay on to influence the choice of his successor, there's little hope of restoring faith in football's governing body unless it opens itself up to full scrutiny

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 June, 2015, 9:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 June, 2015, 9:49am

Merely days ago, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter was triumphant, overwhelmingly re-elected to a fifth term as head of Fifa, the corrupt governing body of football. "Let's go Fifa," he declared, claiming he was the man to oversee a housecleaning of the organisation where he has been boss for 17 years.

Four days later, Blatter sulkily said he would quit, but he wants to stay on for months more to ensure a smooth succession. In those two appearances, Blatter was the face of the problems damaging the beautiful game of football.

Accusations of widespread corruption within and around Fifa had been circulating for years. Instead of being propelled to action and cleaning up, the cosy cabal in charge of the world game intensified their wayward ways.

Blatter was determined to take the World Cup to new places, including South Africa in 2010 and Brazil last year. Choices of Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022, made at the same time, were met with incredulity, especially the thought of football in Qatar's 50-degree Celsius summer heat. Those deciding must have lost their minds, or been persuaded.

On the eve of Blatter's presidential vote, the full force of the US law enforcement agencies, with the attorney general and head of the FBI on the same platform, described what critics had been alleging for years - that key senior figures inside Fifa were responsible for wire fraud, money-laundering and racketeering.

American officials pointedly said that the charges were the beginning, not the end, of the investigation.

Fifa members, undeterred, re-elected Blatter overwhelmingly. US newspapers claimed that the reason for Blatter's decision to step down was that American investigations were moving closer to him.

Blatter was careful with his words. He did not use the word "resign"; he said, "I have decided to lay down my mandate" - and he wants to supervise the election of his successor. The basic problem is, how can anyone trust the same people who have just re-elected Blatter to make a wiser choice when Blatter is still the president and supervisor of the process?

The 209 Fifa members, from China and India, with populations of some 1.3 billion each, to the Cayman Islands, population 56,000 and Montserrat, which isn't even a country and has only 5,000 people, have the same single vote.

Fifa central is economical with its financial details, and the salaries of officials are not published, though Blatter is thought to receive US$10 million a year. Its financial statement for 2011-14 reported revenues of US$5.718 billion and expenses of US$5.38 billion at the end of last year. This actually makes Fifa smaller than the major European football leagues.

In spite of having one vote each, Fifa members are most clubbable. African and Asian members, particularly, are loyal to decisions of their confederations. There were no reports of Asians having broken ranks against Blatter to vote for his opponent Prince Ali bin Hussein, even though Ali is Fifa's vice-president for Asia.

France and Spain reportedly voted for Blatter because they did not want to spoil good business ties with Qatar by reopening the question of its 2022 hosting of the World Cup. In the circumstances, expecting Fifa members to vote for a new boss to put the house in order is a more doubtful proposition than expecting turkeys to vote for Thanksgiving.

At the very least, Fifa needs to open its books to proper scrutiny. Realistically, new pressures, and probably more arrests and some convictions, will be necessary before Fifa can see the light of a new enlightened regime that will restore the beauty to the game.

Kevin Rafferty started his journalism by reporting on cricket and football for The Observer, The Times, The Guardian and Financial Times