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Sepp Blatter and the Power of the Forgotten Majority

The nature and timing of this week's arrests could well serve to strengthen Sepp Blatter's grip on the FIFA throne.
Image via Marcello Casal Jr./ABr on Wikimedia Commons

Sepp Blatter's near-monarchic power rests not in courting the affections of the richer, louder parts of world football. Instead, it comes from an intimate understanding that the conglomeration of wealthier national associations are weak in the face of the combined strength of the rest of the footballing world.

Across Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, much of Oceania and, yes, even parts of Europe, Blatter is Lord Almighty. He is the man that finally cracked the financial pipeline that once transferred the beautiful game's funds into the already bloated wallets of the established powers.


Under Blatter we've seen a World Cup in Africa (the Olympics have never been there); we've seen the number of countries competing in World Cup qualification soar, allowing the likes of Angola and Trinidad & Tobago to reach the finals; and some of the smallest countries on Earth have had training facilities funded by FIFA's now enormous (and ever increasing) kitty.

We've also had more accusations and confirmed instances of corruption than the Nigerian league match that ended 79-0. Allegations abound of World Cup bids and presidential election votes being paid for, and of sponsorship and TV deals secured through personal monetary lubrication rather than true commercial competition.

Quite aside from this, there are Blatter's controversial statements regarding female players wearing tighter kits to increase interest in women's football, and his suggestions that homosexuals not have sex in Qatar if they want to visit during the 2022 World Cup. None of this stopped Dominican football federation head-honcho Osiris Guzman from comparing the Swiss to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jesus, and Nelson Mandela earlier this year. Clearly, love is in the air.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: Blatter has brought the money and attention of the world's richest and most universal sport to countries that had been ignored by previous FIFA regimes. For that, he has achieved seemingly unyielding and eternal loyalty.


These latest arrests by the U.S on grounds of bribery and kickbacks will do little to damage that loyalty outside of UEFA and North America. Blatter, who has shown himself to be supreme when it comes to skilfully navigating difficult waters and emerging safely, will likely continue to lead FIFA until the day he decides he's had enough.

In fact, if anything, the nature and timing of this week's arrests could well serve to strengthen his grip on the FIFA throne and his reputation among his followers.

Some FIFA member nations have been vocal in their official assertions that this week's arrests were timed specifically to undermine Blatter's chances of winning a fifth four-year term as president. This will serve only to galvanise the idea that UEFA and the U.S are seeking to remove him at any cost and for their own interests, not those of global football.

Blatter enjoys the full support of CAF, the Confederation of African Football | Photo by PA Images

In a universe of equal and opposite reactions, such a dramatic show of determination will be met be with increased public backing from friends and further cement the 'Us versus Them' mentality that is increasingly visible between UEFA/the U.S and the rest of the footballing world. If someone threatens to cut off the hand that feeds, you're likely to stand together and fight them.

The very fact that it is the U.S, through the FBI, leading this investigation will only strengthen that resolve across much of the world. The United States is not a universally popular power, with many seeing it as sticking its nose in where it doesn't belong.


It is exactly that sentiment that Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed when commenting on the arrests this week, suggesting that this is merely another example of the U.S playing World Police and involving itself in areas and issues that it has no right to. Of course, Putin is likely a staunch supporter of Blatter for more than just Russia's successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Both are quite brilliant when it comes to staying in power and rallying ferociously passionate support by employing that aforementioned 'Us versus Them' strategy.

Make it look as though everyone is against your people and that you are the only one capable of providing protection. It has worked for countless leaders before and will continue to do so ad infinitum.

Other pro-Blatter associations will surely see the U.S intervention as an act of aggression spurred by the county's failure to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup, FIFA instead awarding it to Qatar. There is a perception that the U.S will do anything it can to get its own way, even in a sport in which it is not seen as a major player. These same countries are very likely going to feel aggrieved that the U.S believes it can police a sport that, in comparison to the majority of the globe, its citizens have little interest in.

They will point to the success of world football (FIFA's revenues have increased four times over since Blatter took charge) and ask what the problem is. The sport is popular, rich and still growing – so why change anything? It is exactly this outlook that gives Blatter a platform on which to stand and fight against any sort of major reform to the way FIFA operates.


What is going to change in the short term is that FIFA officials will no longer be so brazen as to channel funds through U.S banks. The FBI has jurisdiction only within its own borders and, as such, those bank transfers are the only way it can possibly touch FIFA without someone on the inside turning informant.

At present, Switzerland, home of FIFA, has no laws against private corruption and, indeed, this kind of financial transfer is generally considered standard practice where deals are required to quickly increase profit and investment in a capitalist structure. Furthermore, FIFA's status as a charity rather than a business means it is under no requirement to make public the salaries and 'bonuses' of its members.

As it stands, there are only two legitimate ways that will lead to Blatter being forced out the door. Money, or lack thereof, is one of them. FIFA enjoys cosy relationships with some of the world's biggest brands, all of them eager to gain the exposure that comes with being associated with the World Cup – particularly in a day and age where young people are becoming increasingly adept at avoiding and dismissing traditional forms of advertising.

While a couple of these sponsors have cut their relationship with FIFA short, there is no end to the number of suitors eager to line the organisation's pockets in return for that exposure. Corruption arrests are not going to change that desire to gain a direct feed into the living rooms and bars of every country in the world.

The other is a UEFA boycott of the World Cup, undermining completely the tournament's position as the premier stage for the world's premier sport. Given the level of co-operation this would need between FAs that don't always see eye-to-eye, and the further damage it would do to UEFA's relationship with other regional associations, this doesn't seem like a viable option in the near future.

In addition, any such boycott could be viewed as a move of political aggression against Russia –hosts of the next World Cup and a country already harbouring an awkward relationship with the U.S and much of Europe. The effect of a boycott would be felt well beyond the boundaries of the pitch and politicians would be likely to weigh in and influence any such decision.

So, while the arrests are making headlines and seemingly placing Blatter's position in jeopardy, the truth is that they're unlikely to unsettle him for long. UEFA and the U.S might be the loudest and richest players in the FIFA 'family', but as a combined unit they are dwarfed by the clout of Blatter's loyalists.

There are 209 voters within FIFA. UEFA has 53, not all of which are anti-Blatter, and the U.S has one. Aside from those, you'll struggle to find any that won't vote for Blatter and fight to keep him in the job. That's the kind of control that comes from recognising that power rests in the forgotten majority and not the visible minority.