With so many twists and turns in the developing story about FIFA, the multinational investigations taking place into corruption in the global body and regional confederations, it's hard to keep track of everything and feel like there isn't another big development coming down at any moment.
Of course, Tuesday's announcement that FIFA President Sepp Blatter will resign several months from now, after the election of the next president, was one of the biggest bombshells yet. That it comes mere days after he was re-elected president is curious, leading to rampant speculation that he was given an ultimatum from somewhere, that he saw it was the end of the line, or that he's just looking for a new way to govern FIFA without having to be directly in the firing line.
Time will tell, of course, though I think the practice of ascribing almost superhuman powers to Blatter as a politician is a bit much. He's clearly savvy, he's obviously powerful, but he's just a man, in the end.
That's not why I'm writing, however. One of the most fascinating aspects of the ongoing story regarding corruption in soccer to me is the attitude that the rampant, decades-long corruption, of which anyone who's followed the sport seriously was more or less aware of, is some kind of outlier. Should FIFA and the tangled web of confederations, national bid committees for tournaments, marketing firms and other companies be corrupt, slinging bribes to anyone who'll take them? Of course not. The sheer absurdity of watching so much cash change hands, enriching those in charge and swinging hugely consequential decisions like where a World Cup will be hosted is abhorrent. That's obvious.
What's less obvious is putting all of this in context. Why is soccer a nexus of malfeasance? Do evil people just congregate in the sport, as some kind of magnet?
No way. FIFA is corrupt in large part because corruption is rampant around the world. Those who live in a handful of countries where outright bribery is not the order of the day may be shocked to learn that the cost of the upcoming Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments were apparently padded by a massive amount due to bribes, but in the rest of the planet, it more or less induced a collective shrug. That's how things work, right? Those in charge abuse their position of power to enrich themselves.
Even for those who would make this out to be a "developed" vs. "undeveloped" (or whatever terminology you choose to use) countries debate, keep in mind that one of the people who used the system within FIFA and CONCACAF to the utmost for decades was an American, Chuck Blazer, nicknamed "Mr. 10 percent" for his penchant for taking a substantial cut that came from every deal at the confederation. Yes, he was forced to flip by the FBI and clearly played a big role in last week's arrests, but he's not some shining knight in this story. And again, he's a born and bred American.
I've long been intrigued by Blatter's campaign of bringing soccer to new areas and aiming to develop soccer in poorer countries around the world. Of course, this policy brought the World Cup to the United States, Japan and South Korea, South Africa, and (probably will bring it to) Qatar. On the surface, this is a completely laudable policy. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with FIFA giving a Caribbean country a $20,000 grant to improve field conditions at the national stadium, or to set up a kids soccer program, or to grant a country that has never hosted a major tournament before the right to do so in order to facilitate growth of the sport. Like any smart businessperson, the aim is to always keep growing, and while soccer is the world's most popular sport, it is not ubiquitous (or accessible) everywhere. Yet.
At the same time, the implication with Blatter's development policy was to not only curry favor of those tiny countries that helped re-elect him president time and again, but that the money itself was a front for basically paying for votes. I would not be surprised in the least if there was intentionality on his part to use soft money, in a sense, through these development programs to effectively pay off national federations. There's also the chance that FIFA's aims were squeaky-clean in the development programs (it's possible, if unlikely), but the federation heads were the ones to pocket the money of their own accord.
The point is, I don't think the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater. I sincerely hope FIFA gets cleaned up, no longer uses corruption as the normal way of doing business, and perhaps even serves as a model for stamping out corruption in other realms in our world. But I also hope that the noble goal of earnestly trying to improve soccer standards, infrastructure and development all over Earth, in countries big and small, "important" and perhaps less important, is not thrown away entirely, a relic of an era when the aims behind such virtuous goals were less than noble. What better twin legacies could come of this whole mess?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!