/ 11 June 2015

Blatter to stick it out until he pushes through Fifa reform

Fifa President Sepp Blatter.
Fifa President Sepp Blatter.

Blatter, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, is already floating a series of Fifa governance reforms among his inner circle, two weeks after Swiss investigators seized documents and data from the organisation’s hilltop headquarters and raided a posh Zurich hotel. Police arrested Fifa officials, who were among 14 soccer and marketing executives indicted on US charges including racketeering, money laundering and tax evasion.

The reform push is viewed by Blatter’s critics as an attempt to remain relevant one week after his decision to suddenly announce he would step down after being re-elected to a fifth term.

Specifically, Blatter is calling for what he views are key reforms to the future of Fifa, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because conversations are private. These include term limits for future presidents and members of the executive committee as well as the introduction of more women to the executive committee, a group at the heart of much of Fifa’s problems. Blatter would also like to see the number of board members reduced from the current 24 to make decision making more accountable, according to the person.

Complete overhaul
Whether Blatter’s ideas will bounce off the echo chamber of his inner circle or gain resonance among the outside soccer world after 17 years in which he has presided over a series of Fifa scandals remains to be seen. Critics would like to see him step aside before December.

Blatter is “not doing himself and the whole of football a favor” by hanging on until his successor is found, Wolfgang Niersbach of Germany, who is on the executive committee, said in an open letter to German soccer officials. He outlined specific points in his letter that stressed Fifa needs a complete overhaul.

Among others calling for Blatter’s immediate departure are English soccer head Greg Dyke and newly elected Fifa executive committee member Kozo Tashima of Japan.

Blatter’s detractors have been angered by his decision to stay on and oversee the reforms, which will need to be agreed on by a vote of Fifa’s 209 members, almost two-thirds of which voted to retain him at the May 29 election.

“As part of a comprehensive reform of Fifa, it should be looked at whether the current system of ‘one country, one vote’ for all 209 member associations can be adapted,” Niersbach wrote in his letter.

Reform Push
Still, Blatter’s proposals appear to be largely in line with the push for reform led by Domenico Scala, the independent head of Fifa’s audit and compliance body. Scala, a Swiss businessman who has held senior positions in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, has been leading the reform process since Blatter’s decision to step aside at the end of the year. He’s long argued for changes to the executive body, saying last year the group represented Fifa’s “biggest risk”.

The details of Blatter’s reform proposals come hours after Fifa suspended the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup, the $5-billion marquee event responsible for almost all of Fifa’s income. The move signaled the organisation’s damaged ability to function in the wake of the ongoing scandal.

“This is nonsense to start any bidding process for the time being,” Jerome Valcke, the Fifa’s secretary general, told reporters in Samara, Russia, on Wednesday. Valcke himself is under scrutiny after US prosecutors say he authorised the payment of $10-million to Jack Warner on behalf of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup organisation.

“You have decided that after Blatter I am the head to be cut, fine, but don’t use this $10-million because I haven’t made any mistake with this,” he said.

Sprawling Indictment
That payment was a bribe, prosecutors said in a sprawling indictment that alleges more than two decades of soccer corruption. The widening scandal has lead to a drumbeat of criticism from Blatter’s detractors who say he should step down immediately.

The criminal investigations into Fifa led Blatter to say he would end a 40-year association with the organisation. In the latest development, Swiss prosecutors seized “IT data” from high-ranking Fifa officials, the BBC reported.

One of the favorites to replace Blatter, European soccer head Michel Platini, said the decision to suspend the 2026 bid race, where the US is expected to lead a field that could also include Mexico and Colombia, made sense.

“Today there is no leadership at Fifa so it’s normal that it’s been suspended,” Uefa President Platini told a news conference in Paris.

Emergency Meeting
While Valcke was speaking in Russia, Fifa confirmed its executive committee would hold an emergency meeting to discuss dates for the special congress where Blatter’s successor will be elected. The BBC reported the election may be held on December 16, without saying where it got the information. Platini declined to talk about his intentions.

As the investigations continue, Russia World Cup organisers say they did nothing wrong and are preparing for the event in 2018. There were only minor violations in Russia’s winning bid to host the 2018 competition, Valcke said.

A summary of an investigation into the bidding process showed that Russia’s organising team was unable to provide e- mails and data from its successful bid. Officials there said computers they used had been leased from a company that subsequently destroyed the machines.

“I’ll say it straight up, don’t rock this boat,” Russian Sport Minister Vitaliy Mutko said Wednesday of the 2018 World Cup, suggesting that past World Cup bids in Germany and England were guilty of excesses similar to those of the Russian bid. “We acted within the framework of the existing law.” – Bloomberg