On one of the most momentous days in the history of world sports, FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced on Tuesday that he would be resigning from his post in the wake of the growing FIFA corruption scandal that began with the indictment and arrests of 14 executives last week as the result of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
Here are my three quick thoughts on the huge news:
This is a tremendous day for soccer
In recent days, especially after Blatter was reelected to a fifth term as FIFA president last Friday, it appeared the 79-year-old Swiss strongman was completely oblivious to the power of the global DOJ investigation. When the U.S. attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch, called FIFA an organization that’s riddled with deep-seated corruption, it meant that FIFA had finally met a force so powerful that it could force change within a body that has been impervious to it for decades.
The question over the past six days has been whether this would be FIFA’s version of the Salt Lake City scandal faced by the International Olympic Committee more than a decade ago that helped clean up that organization. Now we have an answer: It is.
What changed between Blatter’s defiant post-election stance on Friday and his resignation announcement on Tuesday? Well, the biggest news came on Monday, when the New York Times reported that the money trail was much closer to Blatter than previously made public.
U.S. investigators revealed that Blatter’s hand-picked No. 2, FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke, had authorized a $10 million payment from a FIFA account that was a bribe payment on behalf of the South African government to CONCACAF leaders Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer in return for their vote for South Africa as the World Cup 2010 host.
FIFA tried to blame a dead man, former FIFA VP Julio Grondona of Argentina, for authorizing the payment, but a 2008 letter from the South African government about the payment emerged on Tuesday morning that showed Valcke (not Grondona) was the recipient. Clearly, someone sat Blatter down in the last 48 hours and convinced him to resign. More facts will undoubtedly emerge in the coming day.
What remains to be seen now is whether Blatter will get to follow his endgame on his terms. He announced that he wanted to stay on as FIFA president until a special FIFA Congress meets to vote on his successor. That vote may not happen until at least four months and maybe longer, and more events may be out of Blatter’s control.
Blatter said he’d do everything in his power to persuade the 209 FIFA nations to vote for term limits, greater background checks and a complete restructuring of FIFA that would make the executive committee smaller and chosen by the body at large. But remember: These are the same 209 national soccer associations that just reelected Blatter on Friday.
Can they be trusted to overhaul FIFA?
You can call me skeptical on that one.