POSTED: December 23rd 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: Blatter must stand aside as FIFA President for the good of football

FIFA President Sepp Blatter /  FIFA
FIFA President Sepp Blatter / FIFA

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had its own crisis in the ‘cash-for-votes’ controversy over Salt Lake City’s successful bid to host the 2002 Winter Games. Juan Antonio Samaranch remained  IOC President for two and a half years to manage the fall-out but it was well-known well in advance that he was planning to retire in 2001.

He was probably right to stay in his post as he oversaw significant changes to the rules regarding bidding for the Games, while 10 IOC members either resigned or were expelled from membership.  With the election of Dr. Jacques Rogge as his successor, it was clear that the problems were then behind the Olympic Movement.

There are several similarities between the present shoal of difficulties involving FIFA and those that beset the IOC.  Both have involved bidding to stage events. Both have forced resignations from leading officials because of malpractice.

But whereas the IOC acted relatively swiftly, partly because it was under so much pressure from the Olympic sponsors, almost all of whom at the time were American, there seems less evident opposition from those companies supporting FIFA. It is probably only if those companies begin to exert more pressure that the guardians of the world’s most popular game will act.

 In the meantime, FIFA, and Blatter in particular, seem amazingly reluctant to act with the same speed and earnestness that the IOC did in 1999 and 2000. One reason is that Blatter is assured of almost wholehearted support from the vast majority of countries, who have increasingly found their coffers filling up with riches since Blatter became President in 1998.

The fact is that the report by American lawyer, Michael Garcia, into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, secured respectively by Russia and Qatar, has largely been glossed over. Most countries football associations are more concerned with how much money FIFA will give them rather than the administrative integrity of the game.

Garcia’s claims that a summary of his report was “materially incomplete” and also had “erroneous representations” have been followed by him resigning as independent chairman of the FIFA Ethics Committee Investigatory Chamber. Yet Blatter does not seem at all embarrassed by Garcia’s actions, although at least the FIFA Executive Committee has now agreed to publish the report, albeit redacted so as not to cause legal difficulties with some of its contents.

It has become increasingly clear that the chances are miniscule of FIFA changing the venues for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. It would have to be shown that the Russian and Qatari bidding committees  were guilty of malpractice, rather than just their associates. And the principal fault has always lain with the members of an executive committee, who cast their votes and several of whom have been forced to resign. Any effort to have a new vote would surely lead to legal action by Russia and Qatar, both of whom would have a strong chance of success.

Blatter has said that he intends to stand for a fifth term in May, 2015. However, there have been recent suggestions that the Swiss lawyer may be wavering. Does he, at the age of 78, really want another  four years of conflict because, however often he announces closure on the scandal, another controversy blows up?

Blatter has one more service that he can give to football. That is that he should recognise his very presence at the top of FIFA is part of the problem. He should declare that he will not seek re-election and depart -- immediately.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · John Goodbody · football · FIFA · Sepp Blatter

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