Different President, Same Problem?
Before looking forward we need to look back at how long the previous Presidents held their positions for. Blatter has held office since 1998. His predecessor Joao Havelange was FIFA president from 1974 to 1998, and before that Sir Stanley Rous led the organization from 1961 to 1974.
Joao Havelange had to give up his title as ‘Honorary FIFA President’ in the wake of the ISL scandal. Havelange accepted gifts and bribes from the company to ensure that ISL won exclusive television and broadcasting rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup.
Rous’s reign was also questionable as a result of his support to include apartheid South Africa in soccer tournaments whilst dismissing the views of other African nations. He became extremely unpopular because he was blind to, or deliberately ignored, the genuine concerns leveled about his support for apartheid South Africa whilst at the same time marginalizing African (and Asian) soccer.
Rous also decided to authorize a World Cup play-off match between Chile and the USSR at the former’s National Stadium in November 1973. Two months prior to the ‘match’ the military, led by Augusto Pinochet, overthrew the Chilean government and used the National Stadium as a concentration camp for political opponents – many of whom were tortured or killed. The National Stadium cleared all the dissidents two weeks prior to the match but the Soviets refused to play at the venue. Rous and FIFA refused to move the game to another venue and the Chilean team turned out to the sight of no opposition, and booked their tickets to the 1974 World Cup. To this day, it remains startling that Rous and FIFA did not change venues in light of the circumstances.
Since 1961, only three men have been in charge of soccer’s top governing body. That cannot be a good thing. It encourages inertia and an acceptance of the status quo – when genuine change is demanded, whether it’s on the pitch or for the governance of the game itself, there is absolutely no incentive to institute reform. A president has to be extremely unpopular with FIFA members, as in Rous’s case, for there to be a change in leadership.
In its current state, FIFA is living within a bubble with administrators ‘playing the game’ within that infrastructure. The lack of accountability allows members the chance to gain a lot from soccer without having to give too much in return. It’s quite telling that the most transparent ballot under the FIFA banner is for the Ballon D’or. You can find out which player national coaches and captains voted for with respect to the Ballon D’or, but we do not – and under current rules will not be able to – know who voted for which candidate in a Presidential election. With no term limits either, the system only aids those in power to consolidate their clout, therefore leading to the game being governed by a generation of administrators out of touch with the needs of modern soccer.