FIFA: Culprit or victim?

What lies behind probes into corruption at football’s governing body – love of the game or love of money and power?

FIFA vote
Blatter has insinuated that he wondered if any of this would have happened if Britain and the US had won [Reuters]

When I think back on my conversation with Sepp Blatter at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, I mostly recall his emphasis on certain commitments that the federation needed to adopt and implement to ensure transparency, oversight and accountability.

That was in December, 2012. And it was all talk.

In the following year, Britain and the US lost their World Cup bids to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) respectively. And the British intensified their media investigations, and the Americans began their legal investigation into corruption at FIFA.

Was it a coincidence? Or did Britain and the US act vindictively against FIFA and its officials?

Blatter, who secured a fifth term as FIFA president in Friday’s election, insinuated as much after the scandal broke.

He wondered if any of this would have happened if the World Cup bid results turned out differently, that is if Britain and the US had won.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, concurred.

Anglo-American attempt?

Putin reckons this is an American/British attempt to unseat Blatter and deny Russia the 2018 World Cup.

Putin has charged the US with aggressively expanding its jurisdiction beyond its borders, yet again.

Perhaps so, but interestingly, the 161-page American indictment is based on unsavoury goings-on in its territory and suspicious transactions going through New York banks.

More importantly, the indictment does not focus on FIFA per se, and does not point to a corrupt organisation.

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To the contrary, the investigation and the indictment focus on FIFA being the victim of corruption, NOT the culprit, as Mark Stern observes in Slate magazine.

Indeed, the indictment begins with clarifications that underlines how and why the prosecution focused on a bunch of officials who victimised FIFA by conspiring to dishonestly enrich themselves illegally at FIFA’s expense.

There’s little doubt at this stage that some former and present FIFA big shots are justifiably going down.

And they’ll probably get harsher treatment than the Western banking big shots who caused the last global financial crisis.

But what will happen to FIFA?

So far, the US and British persistence has paid off. FIFA’s brand has been badly tarnished, its officials humiliated and its future is in limbo.

But while their campaigns against FIFA corruption might have been motivated by vindictiveness, will they damage the federation or open the way for serious reform?

The US and, notably, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) have come out openly against Blatter and his FIFA leadership.

They insist that they have the organisation’s best interest at heart, and nothing else.

They seek to save it from its parasites, and hope that the present difficulties will only make it stronger.

Time to step aside?

Besides, wasn’t it time for Blatter to step aside after four terms?

Why insist on a fifth term at 79 other than out of greed?

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On the other hand, what about those who helped re-elect Blatter, even after he took responsibility for this week’s crisis?

Don’t they have FIFA’s – and world football’s – best interests in mind?

Almost all seem to admit – even Blatter’s detractors – that despite charges of corruption and mismanagement, FIFA has succeeded under his presidency to expand football, generate huge revenues, and support and expand the sport in poor and underdeveloped areas of the world.

Meanwhile, FIFA has become as global as the United Nations. But unlike the UN, it doesn’t have a privileged council where the influential few have veto power over the decisions of the majority.

FIFA is led by a general assembly of 209 football associations where everyone has an equal vote, be it Britain or Burundi.

That is hardly a desirable situation for the rich and powerful West.

So what then lies behind FIFA-gate? Love of the game or love of money, power and influence?

Follow Marwan at @marwanbishara

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.