On June 1, 2011 Sepp Blatter, accompanied by members of his family, walked out onto the stage at Zurich’s Hallenstadion and accepted a bouquet of flowers, and with it, another four-year mandate as FIFA president.
The incumbent head of world football’s governing body, having first been elected in 1998, Blatter had run unopposed at the 61st FIFA Congress, his name the only one on the ballot.
Earlier in the day, he had delivered his final address before an election he knew he would win, and after representatives of FIFA’s 208-member organizations (17 abstained) walked one after the other into a shrouded voting booth, the then-75-year-old strode back out in front of the crowd and made his acceptance speech.
It was a moment too farcical to be real, but too disturbing to be funny.
“I am happy today we were once again able to bring solidarity and unity into FIFA,” he said, reinforcing the notion that the organization, its executive committee and all the corruption, both proven and alleged, were inseparable from its chief—that FIFA and Blatter were indivisible.
It’s an idea that has only gained traction in the year-and-a-half since. If FIFA is the monster everyone believes it to be, then Blatter has to go. In order to slay the dragon, you must cut off its head.
“A fresh start within the organization is only possible without [Blatter],” stated Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness last July, adding, “I can’t see him staying in his position as FIFA president until the end of his term.”
Blatter has previously vowed to walk away from the presidency when his current mandate expires in 2015. If he were to resign before then, it would only happen after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil—the final, major tournament of his reign. That would leave a 10-month gap until the next FIFA Congress, which would be the first opportunity to elect a permanent successor.
If Blatter had his choice, the next FIFA president would likely be Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar, who also sits on the FIFA executive committee. In an interview with Marca last September, Blatter went public with his admiration of Villar, saying, “He is a good friend of mine, something that is not always the case on my executive committee, and he is a constant supporter of my ideas.”
Read into that what you will. But if there is to be a second candidate for the position, it will doubtless be Michel Platini, the current UEFA boss and a FIFA vice-president.
Platini, 57, is largely viewed as a progressive executive. He was elected UEFA president on a platform to bring stronger representation to the less powerful footballing nations of Europe and, after a welcome change of mind, proved to be one of the more outspoken supporters of goal-line technology. Financial Fair Play is his latest crusade, the regulations for which will start coming into full force next season.
But it has been Platini’s commitment to fighting and preventing corruption that has won him supporters among the anti-Blatter sect. Declan Hill, author of The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime, has described Platini as “a man who has fought hard against corruption in sport.” That’s about as high an endorsement one can get regarding organizational ethics.
That said, no matter who succeeds Blatter as world football’s head honcho, it’s of vital importance that the electoral process is welcoming to applicants and open to criticism. It was neither in 2011, and Blatter’s credibility has suffered because of it.
As Football Association chairman David Bernstein warned before the last vote at the Hallenstadion, “A coronation without an opponent provides a flawed mandate.”