Sepp Blatter remains “calm.” Of the many vignettes to come out of FIFA’s excruciating press conference that followed widespread corruption allegations made by U.S. authorities against football’s governing bodies, this was perhaps the best.
Agents from both the Swiss and the U.S. Attorney General’s offices had swooped on FIFA’s headquarters — and that of the North American regional body, CONCACAF — and more than a dozen executives, football administrators and sports marketing personnel had been arrested. But Blatter, at least according to FIFA’s Director of Communications Walter de Gregorio, remained “calm” as he presided over the biggest crisis to descend on the organization on the eve of the its annual congress — during which his presidency is due to be challenged.
Maybe Blatter is more concerned than his spokesman lets on. Perhaps, confined in his suite of offices, he is biting his nails. But one has doubts.
Despite the fact that the organization he has presided over for 17 years is in a perilous state, its credibility and legitimacy plumbing new depths, there is almost nothing for him to worry about.
Blatter is not now, and is unlikely ever to be, a subject of any of these investigations, and there is almost no chance of him losing the vote Friday against rival for the FIFA presidency Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan should the ballot go ahead as planned and not succumb by a push led by UEFA to postpone the election.
The first point is important because many commentators make the mistake of assuming that because Blatter has ruled over what is alleged to be an ingrained culture of duplicity, patronage, corruption and bribery, that he himself is guilty of any of these things.
He may not be forthcoming over the size of his salary, but there is no evidence of any kind to suggest he has lived on anything but his supremely generous salary and expense account. Thus de Gregorio could, with a straight face, claim that this turn of events is good for FIFA, that it allows the president and senior officials to complete the task of reforming and cleaning up the organization.
In most other bodies, where the senior management is seen to have tolerated such endemic levels of dysfunction and, it is alleged, criminality, they would have to go, regardless of how guiltless those individuals might personally be.
But FIFA, it appears, is different. Its commercial sponsors and TV clients have proved indifferent to these issues. Players, fans and clubs have no representation within international soccer’s governing body, which leaves FIFA’s constituent members — the 209 football associations of the world — as the only potential internal force for change, and that’s the other reason that Blatter is so relaxed.
The FIFA presidency is determined by a secret vote of the heads of these smaller bodies. And they are, with a few exceptions, every bit as dysfunctional, opaque, unrepresentative and unaccountable as FIFA itself. For example, not a single one has engaged in any public consultation on how its vote should be cast. Even then many of the smallest are dependent on money and favors dispensed by FIFA. Combining this with immaculate and nuanced networking, Blatter has long assembled enough votes to ensure victory.
Nothing that has happened so far, dramatic as it may be, is likely to sway those pledges away from the incumbent president.
Once his authority has, presumably, been reapproved Friday, Blatter may lose a little sleep over the fate of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups — due to take place in Russia and Qatar, respectively, but under a cloud of corruption charges and human rights concerns.
The Swiss Attorney General’s office seems particularly interested in members of the executive committee who allocated the tournaments. But Blatter, ever the escapologist, has left himself and the organization just enough wiggle room to cope with any eventuality, hinting late last year that a revote was not inconceivable. FIFA was quick to rule out such a development Wednesday as the latest turn in the scandal reverberated.
But even in the case of a revote, it will be a matter of logistics.
It seems everything at FIFA can removed or changed, except Blatter’s occupation of his office.