People around the world began to speculate who would replace Sepp Blatter shortly after he stepped down as FIFA president. Twitter being Twitter, most suggestions were jokes, including one wild scenario that tagged Willard Mitt Romney to the job. Everyone had a good laugh until someone asked, "Wait, why NOT Mitt?"
It stopped being a joke because it's not actually a joke. Romney could make a real difference.
Romney—known as a "turnaround artist" for his work at Bain Capital reversing the fortunes of sinking companies—took on an executive role with the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics organizing committee and cleaned up a mess that had resulted from a corrupt bidding process that led to 15 years of International Olympic Committee reforms and was catastrophically over budget.
"He managed to remove the stink of scandal and replace it with the glow of success," wrote the Boston Globe in 2007.
Romney had no special tie to the Olympics. In fact, he received a crash course during a flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles about how the Olympics work. But this is what he did regularly at Bain Capital: made leveraged buyouts of companies like Domino's, Staples, or Sports Authority that he knew nothing about and turned them around. He also reportedly loves to fire people, which sounds like just the thing for FIFA.
"He'd be a great candidate," Eric Kriss, who has worked with Romney for decades at both Bain Capital and under his Massachusetts administration, told me over the phone. "[He's got] a lot of integrity. Honest."
I don't want Mitt Romney in my life, but I do want a clean FIFA that respects the game and is a force for global football development. More than anything right now, I want someone to give me a damn good reason why Mitt Romney shouldn't be the next FIFA president.
I couldn't find anyone. Unfortunately, it probably doesn't matter.
"No way he would do it." That's how Staples founder and Mitt Romney's friend Tom Stemberg replied when I asked him if there's any chance Romney would be interested in being the next FIFA President. (I tried to get him to elaborate on that thought, but never received a reply.)
FIFA needs a true outsider to take over and audit the entire operation top to bottom, like Bain Capital did with dozens of dying companies. FIFA is immensely profitable only due to its monopoly over the most profitable event on the planet. Romney's Mormonism, which was a significant consideration for being put in charge of the Salt Lake City Olympics project, might guide him to treat FIFA like the charity it is rather than a vehicle for corruption.
As of now, FIFA Statutes prevent Romney from running for president (thanks, Grant Wahl). FIFA bylaws require that a presidential candidate "shall have played an active role in Association Football (e.g. as a Player or an Official within FIFA, a Confederation or an Association, etc.) for two of the last five years before being proposed as a candidate." After carefully considering the intent of this law, I do not believe attending his grandson's soccer game three years ago meets these requirements.
But this is a problem with the law, not with Romney. This law was specifically designed to prevent outsiders from changing FIFA's well-oiled corruption machine. But Chairman of FIFA's Audit and Compliance Committee Domenico Scala stated that "nothing is off the table" during yesterday's press conference, so, at least in theory, this law can—and should—be changed.
It's not so much that Mitt Romney should become FIFA's leader—I can't even begin to imagine the nuclear culture clash of his Mormon sentiments with FIFA's champagne-fueled depravity—but rather the implications of it. The mere fact that I can sit here and genuinely argue for Willard Mitt Romney to become FIFA president is the most poignant exemplification of just how fucked up FIFA really is.
Mitt Romney is a last resort, the ultimate backup plan, the guy you call when you have no one else to call. Since America has taken it upon ourselves to fix FIFA, let's roll up our sleeves and get down to business. Time to call in a specialist. Time to call in Willard.