Barely four days after he was elected to a fifth consecutive term as FIFA president and gave a bullish victory speech in which he stopped just short of declaring himself King of the World, Sepp Blatter announced Tuesday that he will resign from the position. The reign of the most powerful man in soccer will soon be over, and fans everywhere are rejoicing at his downfall. John Oliver must be overjoyed.
Blatter has headed FIFA since 1998. His re-election on Friday, following the dramatic list of indictments against 14 soccer officials handed down on Wednesday, seemed like a defeat for many who had hoped to see Blatter lose his iron grip on the sport, and for those who wished to see an end to the tragic farce in Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup is slated to be played. Instead, Blatter swiftly and rather curtly announced his retirement.
But his sudden about face leaves many questions unanswered:
What Exactly Made Sepp Step Down?
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch rather ominously ended her press conference last week by saying, “This is only the beginning.”
Many speculated that this meant Blatter would be an eventual target. Over the weekend, additional information came out implicating Blatter’s right-hand man, Jerome Valcke, in facilitating a $10 million bribe from the South African Football Association under the disguise of third world development funds. (As of now, Valcke has not been charged.) UPDATE: U.S. officials have reportedly confirmed that Blatter is the subject of a federal corruption investigation.
It’s also possible that this was a financial coup rather than a legal one. With various corporate sponsors increasingly unhappy with the negative attention both to FIFA and the human rights issues surrounding the World Cups in Russia and Qatar, corporations such as VISA, Budweiser and Nike may have exerted pressure to force Sepp out.
What Happens Now?
No one is really sure. Blatter will stay in the position until a replacement is elected. FIFA guidelines state that a minimum of four months are required to hold an election. Michel Platini, head of UEFA and one of Blatter’s chief detractors, is in many ways the favorite to get the job. Prince Ali Hussein of Jordan, runner up in last week’s election, may reenter the race, as may retired soccer legend Luis Figo. Some political candidates, such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have been thrown out as possibilities.
As for Blatter, resignation may not save him from the ongoing criminal investigation. It’s hard to see Lynch letting this one go.
How Will Putin React?
Last week, before the indictments came down, Putin held a one-on-one meeting with Blatter. Once the arrests were made, Putin’s immediate response was to accuse the U.S. of politically motivated action rather than seeking justice or altruism.
Hosting the 2018 World Cup in Russia is clearly a point of pride for Vlad, and he’ll fight tooth and nail to keep the games. But given the increasing severity of the charges that are coming out, it’s hard to believe that Putin won’t be tarnished in some way.
It’s equally hard to believe that he’ll accept those charges with good grace.
What Is Going to Happen to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups?
This is the question of the day. With almost exactly three years until World Cup 2018, it is unlikely that voting would be reopened. Russia obviously has its various issues with human rights and military aggression, but as a northern European nation with a fully functioning soccer league, it doesn’t pose the pragmatic concerns that the Qatar games do. It also doesn’t have the tragic and inexcusable death toll of slave labor. So the 2018 games are likely to stay in Russia.
World Cup 2022 is another matter altogether. Between the obvious impropriety that was involved in Qatar securing the tournament, the many difficulties involved in staging the Cup there and the mounting concerns of corporate sponsors, many voices in the West would love to see a new host nation chosen.
If Sepp has any muscle left, he will want to keep this tournament in place. His only hope at “redemption” is that he is remembered not for corruption but as the man who brought the first World Cups to Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Still, chances are that the 2022 tournament will be held anywhere but Qatar. It’s unlikely, though, that the games would be awarded to the U.S. given its role in bringing Sepp down. Educated guess: Start researching a trip to Australia.
This article was updated at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2.
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