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FIFA, the world soccer body, is often compared to a nation-state, and its president a dictator. But after four terms at the helm of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), Sepp Blatter faces the most significant crisis of his reign.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges the organization is guilty of corruption, bribery and vote-buying in the process of deciding which countries host the World Cup. The U.S. on Wednesday charged 14 people with fraud, but the history of allegations of wrongdoing dates to the beginning of Blatter’s reign.
Investigators say that Blatter’s tenure has been plagued by ethical and legal transgressions. Analysts say that a FIFA patronage system has kept its power structure largely intact.
June 8, 1998: Blatter becomes president of FIFA in controversial election
Having worked at the organization since 1975, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter is elected the eighth president of FIFA, succeeding João Havelange. The vote, in which Blatter, a Swiss administrator beats out Lennart Johansson, a Swede, is mired in controversy.
Blatter’s re-election is plagued by new allegations of financial irregularities. FIFA general-secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen accused Blatter of corruption in a report given to the organization’s executive committee. In a"strictly confidential"21-page dossier obtained by Reuters, Zen-Ruffinen described cronyism, illegal payments and deception that he said had characterized Blatter’s first term. The accusations are presented in advance of the election, in which Blatter defeats Cameroonian Issa Hayatou.
“There is no crisis at FIFA. This is all a total misunderstanding,” says Blatter at a press conference attended by Zen-Ruffinen, where the FIFA chief pledged to respond to the allegations within one week.
Dec. 6, 2006: FIFA vice president is warned over ticket scam
After his native Trinidad and Tobago qualifies for the World Cup in Germany, FIFA Vice President Jack Warner takes over the marketing of tickets in his home country.
On June 20, 2011, facing bribery allegations, Warner resigns from his soccer posts. FIFA said in a statement: “As a consequence of Mr. Warner’s self-determined resignation, all Ethics Committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained.”
Nov. 18, 2010: FIFA executives suspended for bribery
Adamu, who served as an executive committee member of FIFA starting in 2006, is suspended for three years and ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,516) after FIFA's ethics committee said he breached rules by offering to sell his votes in deciding which countries would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Executive committee member Reynald Temarii of Tahiti is suspended for a year and ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,258). Four other officials are suspended provisionally.
FIFA suspended Temarii again on May 13, 2015, this time for eight years, for accepting more than 300,000 euros ($327,051) from former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed bin Hammam.
Dec. 2, 2010: Russia, Qatar win bids to host 2018, 2022 World Cups
Russia wins the bid to host the 2018 World Cup, as Qatar wins the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
The 2022 event would be the first World Cup hosted in the Middle East, but questions swirl about how the games would fare if played at the usual time in the summer months, when weather conditions in the Gulf country would be extremely hot. FIFA later says the cup will be played in the winter, with a final on Dec. 18.
May 10, 2011: UK parlimentary inquiry alleges payoffs by Qatar
Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast were paid by Qatar, says a member of the British parliament, Damian Collins,citing evidence from a major undercover investigation by the Sunday Times newspaper.
Football Association chairman Lord Triesman alleges at the same House of Commons hearing before a group of MPs that four FIFA executive committee members had asked for favors in return for votes, although FIFA later says all of the men have been cleared of wrongdoing in an independent report.
July 23, 2011: Qatari soccer official banned for life
Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, former head of the AFC, is banned for life by a FIFA ethics committee after a hearing into bribery allegations.
He was accused of giving cash pay-outs to top soccer officials for their votes, leading him to withdraw from the presidential race against Blatter on June 1. Although an appeal is rejected by FIFA, the Court of Arbitration for Sport eventually annuls the ban in July 2012.
In December 2012, FIFA imposes a second lifetime ban, revealing “conflicts of interest” while he served as AFC president.
July 17, 2012: Garcia appointed to investigate bidding processes
Sept. 5, 2014: Garcia files report seen by limited audience
Although Garcia hands in his work, Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of FIFA’s adjudicatory chamber of ethics committee, the other half of the investigation set up to probe corruption allegations, says legal reasons prevent publication of the full report.
Garcia disagrees, arguing the full 350-page text should be made public.
Domenico Scala, chairman of FIFA's audit and compliance committee, ultimately decides how much of the report can be seen by the executive committee.
NOV. 13, 2014: Eckert publishes summary of the report
Despite publishing a 42-page summary of Garcia’s damning report, Eckert says there is not enough evidence to reopen the bidding process. FIFA says the controversy is over, but Garcia said his position has been misunderstood, alleging “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions."
May 27, 2015: Swiss authorities arrest FIFA officials as US charges 14 people
Swiss law enforcement agents arrest seven top FIFA officials in Zurich on bribery and racketeering charges brought by the U.S., and Swiss prosecutorsannounce a criminal case in connection with the awarding of hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Fourteen figures named in a 47-count indictment unsealed at a federal court in New York City and face extradition to the U.S. for questioning.
The kickback scheme involves $150 million and spans a 24-year period. Among those charged are FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner — the current and former presidents of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). FIFA "provisionally" bans 11 individuals from football-related activities.
“We welcome the actions and the investigations by the U.S. and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football,” reads a statement from Sepp Blatter.
FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio says plans for future World Cups will not be affected.
Blatter hopes for another term as president
After several notable challengers dropped out of the race, only Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein remains to oppose Blatter in the vote slated for May 29. Five of FIFA’s six continental associations support Blatter, while only UEFA, the European body, is against him.
Before dropping out, Dutchman Michael van Praag had promised to serve just one four-year term to modernize the body and increase transparency. "This process is a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man — something I refuse to go along with," said former Portugal forward Luis Figo, who also pulled out of the race.