How the Hell Did Sepp Blatter Win?
LONDON — Hey, FIFA delegates, what first attracted you to human ATM Sepp Blatter?
The president of soccer’s governing body was comfortably re-elected Friday in the midst of FIFA’s greatest crisis in more than a century.
Just two days ago, seven of FIFA’s highest ranking officials were seized by plainclothes officers in a dawn raid on their luxury hotel in Switzerland. U.S. indictments unsealed in New York on Wednesday claimed the entire organization had been corrupted by decades of fraud, money-laundering and bribery.
Given an immediate democratic opportunity to answer for this horrifying portrait of corruption and greed, global soccer bosses responded by honoring Sepp Blatter with four more years in office.
The result was never really in doubt and he won easily, defeating Prince Ali bin Hussein by 60 votes—133 to 73—in the first round, before the challenger withdrew.
“For the next four years, I will be in command of this boat called FIFA,” he said. “We will bring it back on shore.”
The president admitted during a short victory speech that he wasn’t “perfect,” but he has always denied allegations that he once gave potential supporters envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars. He makes no effort, however, to disguise the millions of dollars he does distribute to friends and allies within FIFA every year.
Blatter has developed the most extraordinary system of patronage since the court of Elizabeth I at the birth of the British Empire. Huge swathes of foreign lands are not within his power to bestow, but Blatter has created a system that allows him to share billions of dollars in FIFA profits with overwhelmed and grateful officials in tiny nations from the Maldives to Montserrat.
Under previous presidents, minor nations were typically given nothing.
FIFA’s secret ballot gives all 209 member nations a single vote, so the views of soccer powerhouses like Germany and Brazil carry no more weight than Guam and Brunei.
That’s lucky for Blatter because most of the previous World Cup champions voted against him. Europe has even threatened to withdraw its glamorous teams from future tournaments if he did not step down. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minsiter David Cameron, the leaders of two nations who have five World Cup wins between them, both called for Blatter to go on Friday.
“What we’ve seen is the ugly side of the beautiful game and he should go,” said Cameron. “The sooner that happens, the better.”
FIFA is a nonprofit organization that generated almost $6 billion in the last four years. It is up to one man where most of that is spent.
Speaking in the hours before the vote in Zurich, Blatter reminded the delegates that he was the man who transformed this sporting organization into an unprecedented cash generator.
“Football has become a major industrial and commercial activity. My predecessor told me once: ‘You have created a monster.’ This is not a monster,” he said.
To the FBI, U.S. Department of Justice, and billions of soccer fans all over the world, that is exactly what it has become. But to many of the FIFA delegates sitting in that room, Blatter is a God-like figure.
It would be “blasphemy” and “treason” to vote against him, according to Guinea-Bissau soccer president Manuel Nascimento Lopes. “Africa will vote for Mr Blatter and I will follow that,” he explained, before the votes were cast.
The ballot is secret but the African Confederation let it be known that all 54 member nations would be voting for Blatter. Many of those nations have benefitted personally to the tune of millions of dollars in grants, gifts, and investments handed out by FIFA.
As well as sending money home to their associations, Blatter’s FIFA ensures the delegates who will be casting the crucial votes are very well looked after, indeed. First-class flights, vintage bottles of wine, and generous $500 per diems come as standard for many of the executives. In 2014, FIFA spent $39.7 million on executive stipends and senior management bonuses.
Blatter had also promised that he would deliver Africa its first World Cup, a feat that he achieved with South Africa in 2010. According to the FBI, however, South Africa was selected to host that World Cup after millions of dollars in bribes were paid to executives who cast those votes.
Indictments unsealed in Brooklyn this week allege that South Africa offered to pay $10 million to secure support for them as hosts. When the country’s football association came to pay the bribe, they found that they had insufficient funds in the bank.
No fear, the Department of Justice claims: FIFA was able to make the payment on their behalf.
FIFA denies that it has broken any laws, although the Swiss authorities announced this week they believe corrupt payments were also made in the awarding of the World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
Whether the inducements were legal or illegal, there is no doubt that it has become profitable for the vast majority of the world’s smallest nations to ensure that Blatter remains in power.
An interactive map on the FIFA website allows you to explore Blatter’s financial legacy in the world’s remotest regions. Since 2011, the Cook Islands have received FIFA payments totaling $999,000. The Islands’ population? Eleven thousand people.
Lee Harmon, head of the Cook Islands soccer association, has made the situation perfectly clear: “Before Blatter became president, you know how much funding each member association got from FIFA? Zero. Is that enough to convince you why we’re voting for Blatter?”