Professor Robert Williams

Is anyone surprised?

Sepp Blatter is seeking a fifth term as President of FIFA, football’s global governing federation. At the age of 78, you might think Mr Blatter would be ready for a relaxing retirement, but that would be to underestimate the attractiveness of jobs with such organisations.

Perhaps you think he must be really dedicated to football - or perhaps you believe he is keen to hang on to his generous compensation package for as long as possible. I say generous because, although FIFA claims to be a transparent organisation, we are not allowed to know what it is. Mr Blatter has hinted it is over a million dollars a year; others estimate nearer five million dollars.

His Brazilian predecessor, Joao Havelange, served no less than 24 years as President of FIFA and only abruptly retired at the age of 82, when a series of corruption allegations concerning FIFA’s  former marketing partners, ILS, were about to come to court.

Mind you, Senor Havelange did manage as long as 48 years - yes, 48 - as a member of the International Olympic Committee, which was bedevilled throughout his time by corruption allegations. Mr Blatter has already worked for FIFA in one capacity or another for 39 years, so it seems that nobody leaves FIFA or the IOC until they have to. 

FIFA has a membership of 209 national football associations - more members than the UN. Many of the members are from the developing world, and I know from working in a variety of developing countries that membership of international organisations are keenly sought after prizes for local officials.

International sporting bodies provide ample opportunities for travel and, while local salaries may be fixed by local job markets, international expenses and allowances are fixed by international rates. So FIFA delegates all stay in the best hotels and dine in the best restaurants. It has even been alleged that delegates and their spouses have received presents and hospitality from countries bidding for tournaments.

It is no surprise that many African and Asian countries support Mr Blatter. He has helped to turn FIFA into a money making machine by securing commercial sponsorship and underwriting for tournaments. Inevitably, some of this money finds its way to otherwise impoverished national associations. This leads to such grotesque spectacles as international sporting events like the World Cup being sponsored by the makers of such health giving, exercise-related products as Coca-Cola.

Mr Blatter has also helped swell the coffers of FIFA through new television deals and, as long as the money machine keeps churning out ever increasing profits, it seems few FIFA delegates are greatly concerned about the values and ethics of their organisation.

Sepp Blatter is a Swiss citizen. FIFA is based in Zurich, Switzerland. Until quite recently, commercial bribery was not an offence in Switzerland. So it was apparently acceptable for Mr Blatter to say he was aware of bribes being paid to his predecessor without incurring any personal obligation to do anything about it.

Like most rich people and organisations, FIFA is not particularly keen on paying taxes. It allegedly requires bidding nations to secure tax exemptions for FIFA and its sponsors. I say allegedly because FIFA also requires bidding nations to sign confidentiality agreements so nobody really knows.

In keeping with his stated commitment to transparency, Mr Blatter says the latest round of corruption allegations will be investigated but, at the same time, he dismisses the allegations as motivated by the racism of the British media. So, think Sunday Times, think racism. Or as we say in the crazy world of FIFA, think football, think Qatar.

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