Is corruption a symptom or the cause

Fifa scandal : Joseph Blatter is just the symptom

The FIFA Executive Committee meets in Zurich on Wednesday and Thursday. President Joseph Blatter and his deputy Michel Platini are absent from the meeting. Both are suspended for 90 days on suspicion of corruption and face life-long bans. Without the two top officials, the FIFA government advises on its own future, the state of the state investigations against the world football association and proposals from the reform committee. The problem lies in the system itself, as our author thinks.

When US Attorney General Loretta Lynch brought charges against nine Fifa officials and five executives and nine Fifa officials for extortionate conspiracy and corruption on May 27, the world reacted in shock - and yet was hardly surprised. Yes, this scenario was predictable. But it unfolded with the dramatic relentlessness of a theatrical tragedy.

The year before, during the Carnival World Cup in Brazil, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter had spent his time in the virtual world of the luxury hotel Copacabana Palace on Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, hiding from reality. Another year before at the Confed Cup, also in Brazil, Blatter had been mocked and whistled at every opportunity in the same city. Graffiti and posters like “Fifa go home!” Or “Fuck Fifa!” - posters hung from the walls and stuck to public places all over Brazil, from the Amazon outpost in Manaus to the cosmopolitan Rio. Blatter and his cash cow called FIFA World Cup were suddenly poisoned brands, the acronym Fifa suddenly stood for a dramatically growing contempt.

And yet Blatter entered 2015 ready to take on a fifth term as FIFA President. There was an outcry from the opposition, but in the election campaign Blatter only had to deal with an inexperienced Jordanian prince. Blatter mobilized his followers in the Fifa Congress and achieved a result of 133 to 73 votes in the election against Ali bin Hussein. That was not quite the two-thirds majority necessary for victory, but it was clear enough to dissuade Prince Ali from a second ballot. Blatter followers, mainly from Asia and Africa, expressed their gratitude and loyalty and pointed out how much Blatter had done for them and for the development of football in their countries. Some of them even claimed that Blatter's critics and opponents were nothing more than imperialists and / or racists.

The network has drawn itself over the members of this circle

But less than three days later, Blatter announced that his surprisingly brief mandate was not clear enough for him to be able to complete a full term of office. He promised to retire after the election of a successor. Four more months later, he suddenly found himself suspended from all FIFA activities for 90 days by his own ethics committee. In addition to Blatter, it also met his long-time protégé, Uefa President Michel Platini, and Fifa General Secretary Jerome Valcke. The network had drawn itself over the members of an extensive network. The prosecutors define this group as a “Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization”, which can be roughly translated as “a corrupt organization influenced by criminals”. The Racketeer Influenced an Corrupt Organization Act is a federal law passed in the United States in 1970. According to law professor Pamela Pierson, the aim of this law is "to penetrate into criminal organizations and to locate those who are responsible for the criminal activities and to isolate them from their subordinates and the bureaucracy".

In mid-September, Loretta Lynch announced that further arrests were more than likely, and that entire companies and football bodies could be hit. She did not want to comment on whether Blatter himself might belong to this group. In the meantime, Blatter and Platini have been questioned by Swiss authorities. Blatter as a "suspect" because of his role in awarding dubious media contracts to the former Fifa Vice President Jack Warner from Trinidad & Tobago. Explosives contain the fact that in a further process Blatter and Platini ("somewhere between suspect and witness") were questioned - about an orally agreed payment to Platini of 1.8 million euros in 2011. This sum was Platini shortly before the FIFA presidential election was transferred, in which Blatter was elected for his fourth term - allegedly it was a fee for services that Platini had provided between 1998 and 2002, but at that time Fifa was financially bad. You have to know that Platini had earned his reputation as a former world star when Blatter was first elected FIFA President in 1998.

Fifa finally lifted Blatter out of the executive chair itself

In early October, just three weeks before the end of the nominations for the FIFA presidential election in February 2016, Fifa lifted Blatter herself out of the executive chair and questioned the credibility of Platini in succeeding him as president. Uefa decided on a plan B, nominated its general secretary for the position at Fifa, and thus had an alternative candidate for sure should Platini not be eligible for this vote.

How did it come to this for Joseph Blatter? For the man who joined FIFA in 1975, who learned the marketing and power games from his mentors, the former Adidas boss Horst Dassler and the previous FIFA President João Havelange from Brazil? How did it come to this for the man whom many had always thought to be the master of organized manipulation?

Following Macchiavelli's example, the difficult-to-grasp and ruthless Blatter made the principle of his leadership better to be feared than loved. Now that its power is visibly weakened, the fear factor has also decreased.

Blatter is synonymous with Fifa's change from the principle of tacit agreement to almost open corruption. He is responsible for the criminal charges brought by the Swiss judiciary against his executive committee in 2002. It was about mismanagement in his personal favor, dubious financial practices, manipulation of Fifa processes and the abuse of Fifa's organizational structures. He and Fifa General Secretary Jérôme Valcke were described as completely unreliable witnesses - basically as liars - in a New York court in 2006 because of their business conduct in dealing with the main sponsor Mastercard, which Fifa had betrayed in favor of its competitor Visa.

By dropping old allies, playing himself as the leader of the reform process, Blatter tried to send out the message that he was navigating the Fifa ship through stormy waters. He became an irresistible target for political cartoonists and comedians around the world, a little joke with great presumption.

And yet the Fifa crisis is not alone and primarily a story of faulty administration and opportunistic greed for profit by selfish individuals. With the importance of the global raw material called the World Cup, the Fifa system itself has also grown. This system is susceptible to the ambitions and manipulation of individuals, but the high-profile names listed in the Fifa scandal should not obscure the key question: under what conditions could corruption even flourish so far?

The names of the culpable and corrupt officials could be exchanged at will

It was in 1931 when, under the Dutch General Secretary Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann, most of FIFA's assets were lost through speculative transactions. Fifa moved from Paris to Zurich and reconstituted itself: with a difficult-to-understand system of organizational autonomy and protection against financial liability. Under Swiss legislation, it was possible for Fifa to grow in the sense of a non-profit organization - only committed to the needs of its members and responsible solely for the annual meeting of the members, at Fifa this is still the Congress to this day.

The names of the culpable and corrupt officials can be exchanged at will: the problem is institutionally anchored and is systematically reproduced. With the growth of FIFA and that of its individual confederations, a tentacle-like network of officials emerged who were able to take advantage of the football business and increase their prosperity. The non-profit organization Fifa was, in the words of the US Department of State's Bureau of Public Affairs, exploited as a "company". A number of interrelated associations have been used by individuals for personal gain.

Fifa's ethics committee will have a lot of work to do to find out whether people like Franz Beckenbauer have benefited from their access to Fifa in an immoral or even corrupt way. Blatter may have been the architect of this company for more than 40 years. But the lax Swiss regulations, the commercial interests of Fifa partners like Adidas and greedy careerists from all six confederations are the real causes of the Fifa scandal. Removing Blatter from the stage will not change the basic alignment. A new president with the purest motives and the cleanest résumé alone cannot possibly reform this organizational structure. Fifa is too tied to the great decision-making power of its Congress for that.

Blatter is a symptom, not the only cause. A symptom of the putrefaction at the heart of the Swiss model of associations, which is permanently susceptible to systematic embezzlement and global greed.

And yet there is hope. Blatter and Platini face long or lifelong bans for football-related activities and even criminal investigations. Should both leave the football stage dishonorably, then FIFA and the continental associations could tackle a real reform agenda. This should include limited terms of office for the president, leaner committee processes with meaningful information, the introduction of financial transparency and restrictions on the power of potentially dictatorial presidents.

If there is the will, the fragile and vulnerable Swiss association model could survive. Even if the investigations into the guilty and corrupt continue to remind the world of a Fifa era, whose contribution is largely viewed as the dirty, dark or ugly side of the supposedly beautiful game.

Alan Tomlinson is Professor of Leisure Studies at Brighton University. He has been researching FIFA for 30 years and is the author of the book “FIFA: The Men, the Myths and the Money” (Routledge, 2014). Translation: Sven Goldmann, Christian Hönicke.

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