By now, the world knows that Sepp Blatter has stepped down. Bowing to pressure, the five-term head of FIFA, the international soccer federation, couldn’t stand it anymore and tossed in the towel.
Brothers From a Different Mother?
What many don’t know are the parallels between FIFA and Russia, Blatter and Putin.
While many observers were shocked by Blatter’s election to a fifth four-year term, Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn’t surprised by Blatter’s resiliency.
Just as in the football federation, Russia’s government structure relies on an elaborate system of patronage with an autocratic boss at the center. Power in the Russian federation derives from the fragmentation of constituents and the fact that most of them have done well over the years — much as in Blatter’s universe.
Up until Blatter’s exit, the two spoke the same insolent words. Both rebuked the long arm of America instead of any corruption culture residing within FIFA.
While Blatter said, “No one is going to tell me that it was a coincidence,” Putin called America’s move “…another attempt to extend jurisdiction to other countries.”
The similarities between Putin and Blatter, as well as the power structures they manage, are surreal. Look past the scope of the corruption and bribery charges and focus on the way both men control their organizations while gathering favors.
In 1998, the year that France took the World Cup, FIFA’s revenue skyrocketed to 389 million Swiss francs — or around $280 million USD. In 2014 when Germany raised the prize in Rio, revenue peaked at $2.1 billion — with a B. Even Blatter’s strongest detractors had to admit they had just witnessed an impressive achievement.
The impressive accomplishments didn’t keep Blatter, or Russia, from being the target for satire though.
Russia Fails the Humor Test
Andy Borowitz fooled the Russian government’s official newspaper into believing a threat that American Senator, John McCain has called for a military invasion of FIFA.
“We must make FIFA taste the vengeful might and fury of the US army,” were the words Borowitz put into McCain’s mouth.
Borowitz writes a regular column for American magazine, The New Yorker where he puts a humorous spin on current events purely for entertainment.
Apparently failing to see the humor in the situation, Russia’s state newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, published an opinion piece saying that McCain’s apparent remarks amounted to America’s disrespect for international law.
Vladislav Vorobyov, writing for the Gazeta, pointed to McCain’s “quotes” and said that the statements plainly demonstrated the United States’ willingness to bomb “any place on the planet” and that American politicians had lost touch with reality.
Although Borowitz had his tongue firmly-in-cheek, a threatened boycott of the 2018 World Cup is not satire.
Alternative World Cup
The European nations that play football had planned to meet to discuss the option of calling it quits with FIFA and holding their own World Cup in 2018. The move, which was an effort to force Sepp Blatter to step down, was widely anticipated by soccer fans worldwide.
The tournament, which is booked for Russia, would involve European teams and select South American countries. If the boycott had occurred, the World Cup would have been undermined in the eyes of fans and, more importantly, sponsors.
Between Blatter’s re-election and his sudden resignation, the aftershocks circled the globe. The possibility of an alternative World Cup was just one of those seismic activities that rocked the world’s most popular sport.
Another rumbling happened on June 1 when Nicolas Leoz, 86, former head of the South American Football Confederation was placed under house arrest by a Paraguayan judge. Leoz, who was one of those initially indicted, allegedly had asked for knighthood in exchange for supporting England’s effort to host the 2018 World Cup.
After Blatter’s re-election, but before he quit, he had told confidantes that he is “dismayed” by the countries that voted against him in the recent election. Any European breakout could have fatally undermined Blatter’s rule, and when Blatter stepped down, many in the soccer world welcomed it.
Hansen said, “We have so many reforms in FIFA. We have the fundamentals if we want to create a newer and stronger FIFA.”
“We need a strong leader to help introduce and implement revised reforms and standards. It will be difficult, but if we have a joint agreement in Europe, I believe we can change FIFA,” he added.
While most welcome the potential for reform, some were upset change which was slow to happen.
Heather Rabbatts announced June 1, that she is quitting FIFA because she found it “unacceptable” that so little had been to reform FIFA and that last week’s developments have been disastrous for the sport and its reputation. Since Blatter’s resignation, Rabbatts hasn’t updated her statement.
Royalty Gets in a Word
The heir to the British throne, Prince William, also applied pressure.
On Saturday, the Prince said, “There seems to be a huge disconnect between the sense of fair play that guides the players, and the allegations of corruption have have lingered around the management.”
The remarks were an unprecedented intervention for a member of the Royal Family. Openly siding with those leading the FIFA investigation, the prince supported the decision by David Gill, vice-chairman of the English Football Association (FA) to boycott the initial meeting of the FIFA executive committee following Blatter’s re-election.
Before Blatter announced his resignation, the prince also supported a European boycott of the Russian World Cup.
“I’ve long had my misgivings about Russia holding the next World Cup. I voiced my concerns when the situation developed in Ukraine and said I couldn’t see how it would be possible that the whole world would just go to Russia as if nothing had happened,” he said.
“With all these allegations swirling around FIFA, there is a devastating case for England to take a stand and say we should not participate in the next World Cup,” he added.
The Prince doesn’t need to fret anymore. The tidal wave of criticism finally washed over Blatter’s ship and swamped it on the rocks of public opinion.
Despite Blatter’s shortcomings, he did share some characteristics with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
While Blatter was busy handing out the goodies such as artificial turf in Seychelles; new association headquarters in Kampala; a technical center in Bahrain and a national football academy in Fiji, many observers saw the deals as more lubrication in the gears of Blatter’s machine.
Many also saw Blatter’s engine oiling as being the same as Putin’s benefaction for the magnates and regional officials who have supported him almost from the beginning.
Putin’s and Blatter’s powers may have maxed out. The World Bank predicts that Russian poverty will begin to surge, and American authorities say they’re not done yet with FIFA.
Until today, both men had shown a remarkable ability to cling to power.
And then there was one.
Jerry Nelson is an American freelance photojournalist based in South America. He turns his pen and camera on social justice issues globally and when he isn’t traveling, he lives in Buenos Aires. Contact Jerry today at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter.