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Sepp Blatter’s Successor: Can Anyone Actually Fix FIFA?

The soccer supervillain’s resignation was the shock heard ’round the world, but now comes the hard part: Finding someone to replace him

sepp blatter

Sepp Blatter announces his resignation as FIFA president in Zurich, Switzerland.

Valeriano Di Domenico/AFP/Getty

He’s gone! Only, he’s not.

Sepp Blatter may have announced his resignation as FIFA president yesterday, but he won’t actually step down from the role until the organization holds a so-called “extraordinary elective Congress.” When will that be? Good question – too bad no one seems to have an answer. At the earliest, it won’t happen until December, which means Sepp’s farewell tour will last at least four months (and you better believe he’s going to take one). The next “ordinary” FIFA Congress takes place in May.

Aside from throwing himself on the sword (and possibly being indicted) what else will Sepp be doing until then? Embarking on coherent reform, apparently:

“The size of the Executive Committee must be reduced and its members should be elected through the FIFA Congress,” he said during his resignation on Tuesday. “The integrity checks for all Executive Committee members must be organized centrally through FIFA and not through the confederations. We need term limits not only for the president but for all members of the Executive Committee.”

That all…makes sense?

Regardless of whether Sepp actually makes good on these reasonable attempts at reform, there is an enormous problem facing FIFA right now: 133 of its members cast their ballots for Blatter last Friday. This despite the U.S. Department of Justice indicting 14 FIFA executives and officials a mere 48 hours before the vote, with the promise that this was just the beginning. Facing worldwide condemnation, 133 FIFA countries decided, “Nah, we’re good,” and even gave Sepp a standing ovation to the tune of his improvised “Let’s go FIFA” post-election victory chant.

To make that 133 number a little less abstract: the Ecuadorian Football Federation president, Luis Chiriboga, was recently re-elected to yet another term in the office he’s held since 1998 (just like Sepp!). And last Friday, despite reports of a pre-vote arrangement between CONMEBOL (South America’s confederation) members to vote for Sepp’s opponent, Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, Chiriboga went ahead and voted for Blatter anyway. In related news, Chiriboga is not expected to step down anytime soon.

What of Africa, whose leader, Issa Hayatou, promised – and most likely delivered – 54 votes for Blatter? What of Asia? Oceania? All Blatter strongholds. Whenever FIFA decides to hold an election for Blatter’s successor, where will their loyalties lie? That’s the (literal) million-dollar question.

It’s hard to envision that block of nations, spread across the world, voting for someone who would campaign on the kind of platform FIFA actually needs. More transparency? Why would anyone want that? In the one-country, one-vote system, international pressure to do the right thing doesn’t mean a whole lot. Given what’s theirs to lose, how many of those 133 votes would go for the alternative candidate suggested by Grant Wahl?

Like Sepp’s proposed reforms, the above suggestion make sense. FIFA should probably look to someone who isn’t a lifer to lead them. Right now, the president should focus on restoring a severely damaged reputation by dramatically improving governance and accountability. That broadens the scope of candidates – but really, how realistic is it to expect any of them to make it all the way to the election?

Let’s not forget a very important fact: Sepp Blatter will still be the FIFA president through the campaign period ahead of the new election. It would’ve been a cleaner break had he stepped down immediately, and the impact of him staying on for at least four more months and “indirectly” overseeing the campaign process cannot be underestimated. If we know anything by now, is that Sepp Blatter should never be underestimated.

Will Sepp try to facilitate the transition to someone he can trust? Someone who can protect his own legacy as much as possible? If he didn’t care about who his successor will be, staying on doesn’t make much sense. Yesterday’s move was merely a precursor to many others. One does not stay in power for 17 years by doing things lightly.

What about the three people who attempted to run against Blatter in the most recent election? Will any of them run again? Prince Ali only got 73 votes, and it’s hard to figure out how many of those were actual “Prince Ali” votes as opposed to “Anyone but Sepp” votes. Also, it does not seem Prince Ali managed to persuade his own confederation to back him up. The Jordanian said a few nice things, but didn’t seem to be all that convincing of a candidate. Next up is Luis Figo, the famous Real Madrid and Barcelona winger. Also says nice things, but couldn’t muster enough support and withdrew before the election even took place. Same for the pragmatic Michael van Praag. But those are the fun candidates. Numbers 6 and 8 on this Guardian list are far more depressing.

All signs point to a familiar FIFA face. Or in this case, a UEFA face. France’s Michel Platini, once a legendary artist on the pitch, has the unique circumstance of having been a close Blatter ally at one point, only to be the man who asked him to resign ahead of last week’s election. He’s seemed like the most likely man to succeed Sepp for several years now, and this might finally be his chance. Does he raise any red flags? Sure! He loved the Qatar bid for the 2022 World Cup, a thorny issue that promises to be front-and-center in FIFA dealings for years to come.

Is it good that Sepp Blatter will no longer be FIFA president? Of course! But removing him does not magically correct everything that’s wrong with the organization; it merely offers the hint at different leadership, and hopefully meaningful reform. Should the right candidate be chosen, we can even dream of changing the culture of FIFA – a culture that has kept only two men in power for the last 41 years.

But, again: 133 countries voted for Blatter last week. Those same countries will seemingly vote for his spiritual successor whenever elections are held – why rock the (very profitable) boat? Together, they essentially represent the two-thirds of the votes necessary to secure a first-ballot win. They have the leverage, and all the potential candidates will have to negotiate with them from a position of weakness. There is going to be plenty of wheeling and dealing in the coming months. Let’s just hope that for once, it’s not the kind that got FIFA in this mess to begin with.

In This Article: Soccer, sports

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