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A Small Minority of Idiots

How Soccer Despot Sepp Blatter Finally Fell to Earth

A cautionary tale of bribery, stupidity, and an obese, parrot-loving snitch.

by Ben Machell
Jun 3 2015, 4:05pm

Above: Outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Yesterday evening, when Sepp Blatter announced he'd be resigning as FIFA president, it would not have come as a shock if he'd immediately leapt on a Segway and ridden it to a waiting chopper, the blades of which were already whirring for take-off. As a story, the 79-year-old's sudden fall after 17 years as the most powerful man in world football is complicated, hubristic, and funny. I honestly wish I could guide you through every twist and turn of the wider ongoing FIFA corruption scandal, which now appears to have put the destinations of the next two World Cups in doubt, but I'm not sure I have the forensic mind required. I mean, you would basically need to be a one-man Warren Commission to sift through all that. What I can do, though, is draw out some of the more intriguing aspects of the case as things currently stand.

THE FEDS. This is probably the coolest thing about the entire scandal. The Feds—literally, the fucking FBI—are responsible for conducting the investigation that has ultimately led to Blatter's fall. We, in the inert Old World, spend years pissing and moaning and rolling our eyes about the fact that FIFA obviously stinks from top to bottom and that Blatter is like one of those Renaissance popes who lived in a solid gold palace full of hot nuns. But in the end, it's the States who actually care enough to do something about it. It helps that Blatter looks like a Steven Seagal film baddie. If the Americans love doing one thing, it's taking down baddies.

Read at VICE Sports: FIFA Has Announced the Reform We've All Been Waiting for—But Will It Follow Through?

It turns out that the US Justice Department—whose crest is literally a pissed-off bald eagle surfing on a bullet painted like the American flag—has been compiling a case against FIFA for a while. Personally, I like to imagine that when the seven senior officials were arrested last week, they were grilled by a load of gawky federal agents with Polish surnames, fraternity rings, and coffee in polystyrene cups. During the questioning, the agents'd play dumb about the rules of football, scratching their heads, shrugging, and making jokes about how they preferred baseball anyway. This would enrage the FIFA officials so much they'd incriminate themselves by letting vital pieces of information slip, before it eventually transpired that the interrogating Feds actually fucking loved football all along. If this were a film, the final shot would be of a jailed FIFA official peering down from his Alpine cell to see his FBI interrogators enjoying a game of five-a-side.

THE OFFICIALS. One of the least surprising things about the arrests was what the officials looked like. Seriously, take a good long look. A good 85 percent of them look like Sith Lords from the Star Wars prequels. If you don't want people to look at you and think, Could this person possibly be part of a shadowy, sinister, super-governmental elite? why not do your absolute best not to look like a corrupted Jedi wearing a $6,000 Italian suit?

Chuck Blazer with one of his parrots.

THE STOOLIE. I'd never heard of Chuck Blazer prior to last week and yet the more I learn about him, the more I regret all those wasted years. He's the former senior FIFA administrator who reportedly acted as FBI snitch, and as grotesques go, he's absolutely amazing. Prior to 'fessing up to the Feds, the American had been riding the FIFA gravy train so hard and for so long that he apparently now requires a fleet of mobility scooters to get around on. According to reports, his cats had their own apartment in New York City's Trump Tower and, continuing with the animal theme, he would be seen scooting around Central Park with a parrot on his shoulder. He has many parrots. Apparently an ex-wife had trained one of them to insult him. I mean, the guy was so bent it was kind of brilliant. Not only had he not paid millions in tax—and this is ultimately what the FBI used as leverage against him—but newspaper investigations have shown that in 2005 he had the Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) spend $48,554 on a Hummer for him plus an additional $21,600 in private Manhattan parking fees. Who the fuck needs a Hummer in Manhattan? I'll tell you who: Chuck Fucking Blazer.

He even kept a blog detailing all the famous people he met on his FIFA jollies. The best bit is probably the anecdote about high-fiving Vladimir Putin after the Russian president told him he looked like Karl Marx. I'm not even being sarcastic: that's a really good story.

THE FATAL BRIBE? News about this came out yesterday, and was massive. Before we continue it's worth remembering that when Sepp Blatter had secured his fifth consecutive term as FIFA president last week, he was elected two days after the FBI had arrested all those Sith Lord FIFA officials. So while that was bad, it clearly wasn't fatal for him. But on Tuesday morning, a certain document was made public and by the end of that same day, Blatter was gone.

What was it? Well, it was a letter from 2008 that seemed to show the South African Football Association paying $10 million to bribery suspect and then-FIFA Vice President Jack Warner. South Africa, of course, was chosen to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and I would encourage you to have a look at this leaked document yourself. What I mean is, if you ever had to write a letter that basically said "HERE'S YOUR BRIBE LOL!" without actually using the words "HERE'S YOUR BRIBE LOL!" then it would probably look a lot like this document. It talks about setting aside $10 million to create something called "The Diaspora Legacy Program," which is almost impossible to type without adding a ";-)" afterwards, and then asks that Warner, in what was then his other capacity as the President of CONCACAF, be put in charge of it all. So... yeah. Bad.

THE FALL. And we're back to where we started: Tuesday night, at a hastily convened press conference at FIFA HQ in Zurich, with Blatter announcing his exit. It was some turnaround: the previous week, he'd been spunkily defiant after winning the election. "I am the president now, the president of everybody," he declared. With hindsight, this is probably the kind of thing that doomed despots are wont to say, but Blatter wasn't done. He then turned his attention to the regional football confederations who had not supported his bid, particularly UEFA. "I forgive," he told them. "But I do not forget." It was like he'd been watching far too much Game of Thrones. Shit, it was hard not to think to yourself. He actually fucking thinks this. For years, most of us had accepted that he was a cynical and calculating power player. But in this moment of triumphal crowing, it started to dawn that he might be genuinely deluded.

In reading up on Sepp Blatter, one of the things that really jumped out was the fact that, as a child, he was supposed to have been the only kid in his Swiss school who had a decent football and, as such, had been the alpha figure in his playground. Over the intervening 70 years, you wonder how much ever really changed, at least in his own head? "I am a mountain goat that keeps going and going and going," he has said in the past. "I cannot be stopped. I just keep going." Only, last night, the school bully mountain goat finally came to a halt. He announced his resignation after a period of "deep reflection" and exited the stage. If he could, you suspect he would have taken his ball with him. But he couldn't. Because it was never his ball in the first place.

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