The Swiss president of FIFA, the organization that governs soccer around the globe, won an uncontested fourth consecutive term Wednesday, despite FIFA being enmeshed in the worst scandal since the organization was founded over a century ago.
Sepp Blatter secured the rubberstamp vote, with 186 of the 208 member countries supporting his candidacy, after his only opponent, Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam, dropped out of the race earlier this week. Mr. bin Hammam left the race after he was accused of bribing FIFA officials to gain their support in the election against Mr. Blatter.
Despite the allegations that are casting doubt on the legitimacy of FIFA's World Cup host selections, Blatter insists this is business as usual.
“Crisis? What is a crisis?” Blatter said Tuesday at a press conference.
“We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties,” he said of FIFA, the world’s second biggest sporting body after the Olympic Committee and which has a four year budget that tops $4 billion.
Blatter, who describes himself as a the captain of a ship that should reject external meddling, particularly from journalists and officials demanding accountability, thus sees no need for further investigation of unprecedented corruption rocking the most popular sport in the world.
A shadow over Qatar's World Cup
Topping the cover-up list is the selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. It isn’t the first time Qatar’s unexpected win over the US, South Korea, Japan, and Australia has come into question. But this time the apparent accusation comes in the words of FIFA’s general secretary Jerome Valcke. He wrote in a recently leaked e-mail that Qatar had “bought” the World Cup. Mr. Vlacke confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, but said he was referring to Qatar’s “financial strength.”
“I have at no time made, or was intending to make, any reference to any purchase of votes,” he said.
Still, calls for a probe of the 2022 World Cup vote haven't ceased. “There is a considerable degree of suspicion that one cannot simply sweep aside, and I must expect that awarding this World Cup under these conditions needs to be examined anew," said Theo Zwanziger, the head of Germany’s football association Tuesday.
But Blatter disagrees. “What should we do? Nothing. The World Cup 2022 is not touched by that,” he said earlier this week when confronted with Valcke’s leaked e-mail.
In an effort to put the issue to rest, on Wednesday he proposed reforming how a World Cup host is selected. Blatter suggested that the general assembly of 208 member countries vote directly, instead of having an executive committee select the host as has been the case for over almost three decades.
Even before the explosive e-mail was leaked, FIFA had already been rocked by multiple corruption accusations over previous months of vote rigging, bribery, backstabbing, conspiracies, and coverups, including the banning last year of two top officials who put an $800,000 price tag on their vote to select the World Cup host.
The latest involved the heads of Asia’s and Central and North America's football associations and top FIFA executives. Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, from Trinidad and Tobago, were provisionally suspended from all their posts Sunday for allegedly offering $40,000 to each Caribbean federation for their vote.
Blatter was cleared by the same ethics committee that sidelined the two other officials, leaving him unopposed.
A rising chorus for reform
Cries to overhaul FIFA are coming even from outside the world of football.
“It is important you examine [corruption allegations] swiftly and take the necessary measures to reform your governance. It is of the utmost importance because your organization should be an example not only to young people but to the world at large,” Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey told FIFA delegates.
But Blatter appears to have come out stronger, with his speech on Wednesday interrupted by ovations. He has experience with corruption scandals, having survived accusations he bribed his way to win the first election in 1998.
What remains to be seen is whether Blatter will be able to block growing calls to probe Qatar’s selection. His legacy and perhaps even the future of "the beautiful game" could be at stake.