Blatter’s reign must weather a storm

FIFA hierarchy linked to bribery

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Put the commissioners of America’s professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues together in a room and they still couldn’t match the unchecked power, the global clout, the ability to enrage or elate entire continents with a nod of the head, that Sepp Blatter enjoys.

Sepp who?

Blatter is the president of FIFA, soccer’s governing body and arguably the most powerful man in the world of sport. He sits at the top of an organizational pyramid that encompasses hundreds of professional soccer leagues, thousands of pro teams and millions of players. The crown jewel in Blatters Zurich-based empire is the World Cup, the most watched single-sport event in the world.

But Blatter’s control of the empire he has ruled since 1998 is suddenly in question as FIFA delegates prepare to vote Wednesday on whether to keep the imperious president on the job, in an election already tarnished by vote-buying charges. The campaign for control of the “beautiful game” has been anything but pretty.

The 75-year-old Swiss native is the sole candidate in the election, after Asia’s soccer president Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar pulled out of the race Sunday just hours before a FIFA ethics committee in Zurich suspended him on charges of bribery.

The scandal spread Monday after evidence surfaced that FIFA’s second in command had suggested Qatar had “bought” the right to host the World Cup in 2022.

The desert nation, with a population of just 1.7 million and no high-level soccer tradition, was shockingly awarded the 2022 World Cup in December after beating out the U.S. in a final round of voting 14-8. Bin Hammam was a key player in helping to deliver the 2022 World Cup to his homeland.

FIFA’s secretary general, Jerome Valcke, had hinted in a private email to FIFA vice president Jack Warner that Qatar had “bought” the right to host the World Cup. Warner made the email public after he also was provisionally suspended by FIFA’s ethics committee Sunday.

In a statement, Valcke said he used the word “bought” to mean Qatar was using the “financial strength” of an oil-rich country to lobby for the finals and that it was not intended to suggest any unethical behavior.

Last week, FIFA began investigating bin Hammam and Warner over accusations of bribery in the campaign to unseat Blatter. American soccer official Chuck Blazer blew the whistle, accusing bin Hammam of trying to bribe 25 delegates of the Caribbean Football Union with cash payments of $40,000 each.

Bin Hamman fired back, saying Blatter should also be investigated because he was informed of, but did “not oppose payments.”

On Sunday, FIFA’s ethics panel cleared Blatter of any ethics violations, leaving him unopposed in the election.

“Football is not in a crisis, only some difficulties,” Blatter said at a press conference Monday, even as some FIFA members suggested Wednesday’s election should be suspended.

The investigations come at time when already six members of FIFA’s elite 24-man executive committee - including two vice presidents - are accused of having received, or demanded, bribes during the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which went to Russia and Qatar respectively, over favorites England and the U.S.

It could be a watershed moment for FIFA. The organization is facing the kind of scrutiny that brought changes to the International Olympic Committee following the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games bribery scandal.

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