Posted on Tuesday, 28 July 2015 12:04

FIFA's Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter under the spotlight

Sepp Blatter. Photo©Rex Shutterstock/SIPAAmidst international investigations into corruption at the global football organisation FIFA, the president is set to step down. African federations want to see his successor continue policies promoting the continent.

In the political fallout from the current crisis at the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) – football's world governing body – African football administrators have, so far, assumed a rather low profile.

None have been arrested or questioned in either the US or Swiss investigations into corruption, vote buying and money laundering, though that may well change.

Nor have any african leaders been touted as a possible candidate in the upcoming presidential elections to succeed Sepp Blatter.

He announced his resignation on 2 June, just days after winning a fifth term in the post, due to the probes.

Big Man Bows Out

10 march 1936 Born in Visp, Switzerland

1959 Graduated with a business degree, Université de Lausanne

1975 Joined FIFA as a technical director

1988 Won his first election as FIFA president

2 June2015 Announced plans to resign after replacement selection

There are plenty of rumours in circulation about the future of football.

According to one Swiss newspaper, African federations have been quietly calling for Blatter to stay put.

In the recent presidential election, Africa's 55 national football associations and federations voted en bloc for Blatter.

They argue that the status quo would best serve their interests because FIFA under Blatter, and before him Brazilian João Havelange, looked after them.

Havelange, who became president in 1974 with significant African support, expelled apartheid South Africa, expanded and commercialised the World cup and brought African football into the heart of the FIFA administration and its network of entitlements and patronage.

Under Blatter, the flow of money to African football associations sharply rose.

Many confuse this system of patronage and power within FIFA – which is distasteful but perfectly legal – with the endemic corruption in the allocation of hosting rights, sale of TV rights and the use of development money by the regional football confederations and the 209 national associations that constitute FIFA.

Blatter has not been a dictator. He, however, is a man with a taste for status and control of money.

He is a masterful manipulator of favours and has been able to dispense around 20% of FIFA's growing income to the world's football associations.

Some of it arrives as fabulous expense accounts and per diems for innumerable global committees.

Other money is in the form of block grants, without which small associations could not exist.

The rest is earmarked for specific development projects, and none of it is monitored too closely. But Blatter has done more than just this.

After South Africa lost out to Germany in the fiercely contested battle for the 2006 World cup, Blatter ensured that the 2010 tournament went there.

It was rarely noted in Europe that he was a staunch defender of South Africa when the world's press was relentlessly scrutinising its hosting credentials.

Similarly, when the European press complained about the noise of vuvuzelas, Blatter was unmoved, insisting that this was "the sound of Africa".

Barring a comeback for Blatter, Issa Hayatou, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and the other key African power brokers will be considering which of the other possible candidates is most likely to win and to preserve as much of the favourable status quo as possible.

Officials in some quarters have denounced the US and Swiss investigations.

Responding to accusations that South Africa had bought votes in pursuit of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa's sports minister Fikile Mbalula said: "We have fought colonialism and defeated it, and we still fight imperialism and we will fight it whenever it manifests itself."

However, this crude elision of corruption investigations and a colonial plot will not wash.

Both probes are making it transparently clear that corruption in football, like everything else, is not confined to Africa or indeed to the global South.

The Swiss investigations into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups concern the behaviour of the Russians and Qataris.

The key witness for the prosecution in the US is Chuck Blazer, the fabulously corrupt former general secretary of the North American and Caribbean Football Federation.

And alongside Latin American and Caribbean football officials and sports agencies, US banks are in the firing line too.

It remains the case that African football associations and the CAF have little interest in reforming a system that has rewarded them.

Their own track record on corruption is best illuminated by the insistence of the 2014 Ghanaian World Cup squad that their FIFA wages should be paid direct to them in Brazil and in cash rather than pass, as they had in the past, through a Ghanaian football association account.

In two areas where they could be making a real difference – grassroots development and player trafficking – their records are poor and patchy at best. ●


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