Blatter resigns, but his toxic legacy will live on at FIFA

Full-time whistle has blown for Sepp. Ennio Leanza/EPA

Sepp Blatter, world football’s newly re-elected president, has announced his resignation from the position in a press conference.

Having voiced a post-election rallying call last Friday of “let’s go FIFA, let’s go FIFA”, Blatter said during his resignation speech:

While I have a mandate from the membership of FIFA, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football – the fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football as much as we all do at FIFA.

The collective sigh of relief among critics and cynics was perceptible – the arch nemesis of good governance is finally set to depart. Having apparently weathered the worst of whatever a New York lawyer, several ethics investigations and a horde of probing journalists could throw at him Blatter has now surprised everyone and is on his way out of FIFA’s front door in Switzerland.

The letter that forced his hand

Despite his protestations about the absence of a mandate from his beloved football family, at first glance the tipping point for Blatter’s resignation would seem to have been the disclosure of a letter sent by the South African Football Association (SAFA) to FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke. FIFA initially claimed Valcke had never been in receipt of such a letter, but the appearance of the document clearly showed otherwise.

The letter to Valcke from SAFA president Molefi Oliphant was important as it instructed FIFA to make a payment for $10 million to the then president of CONCACAF, and now disgraced former FIFA vice-president, Jack Warner. FIFA was then asked in the letter to deduct this payment from revenues due to the country in respect of the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA officially labelled the money as being part of its “Diaspora Legacy Programme”.

Until yesterday, Sepp Blatter had always claimed that he was unaware of any corrupt activity taking place inside FIFA. The problem is Valcke has been his deputy and a trusted advisor.

If Valcke is under suspicion, then Blatter himself is becoming increasingly exposed to scrutiny. And with the FBI circling and world opinion turning against him, Blatter has recently been running out of options, excuses and the loving support of his fellow FIFA family members.

His own terms

For all the journalists who have pursued him, the fans who have criticised him and the sponsors who have been concerned by him, Blatter’s departure will no doubt feel like some sort of vindication, a prelude to the start of a new era. However, much like a World Cup final in extra time, this isn’t over yet.

Running counter to the populist notion that we have all somehow contributed to Sepp Blatter’s downfall, there is a view that his departure was predictable. Under normal circumstances, when business leaders, politicians and leading figures have been subjected to what Blatter has, they nobly fall on their swords and leave office.

Yet throughout the litany of allegations, resignations and last week’s arrests, Blatter endured only to resign from office four days later. In other words, rather than being forced out by arrested colleagues or by the intimidation of his critics and those who voted against him in last week’s election, the Swiss septuagenarian is departing FIFA on his own terms and at his own pace.

A long goodbye

Indeed, while he may have just resigned, it will be a long goodbye. To elect a new president at the next ordinary FIFA congress would mean waiting until May 2016, hence Blatter has called for an extraordinary congress to take place. But this is unlikely to take place until December 2015 at the earliest and possibly even as late as March 2016 – still nearly ten months away. In the meantime, Blatter will remain as FIFA president.

Forever the FIFA paternalist, Blatter has already stressed that during the intervening period it will “free [me] from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts”. Blatter making one last play, this time as a great reformer - surely not?

Another possibility could be that he wants to get his heirs apparent in position ready to take up his mantle and secure his legacy. This would be one final, joyous blow for Blatter to inflict: manoeuvring his boys into position while casting out his doubters and critics (such as UEFA president Michel Platini) to the margins of world football.

It will take years if not decades to address FIFA’s problems. Whoever ultimately replaces Blatter as president will face a daunting challenge and FIFA will need the strongest of leaders.

Joseph S Blatter will pervade the organisation for some time to come. The intense politicking of the next ten months will pass quickly, but the blood of Blatter will run through the veins of FIFA for some time yet.