FIFA will only change when UEFA goes nuclear TSS May 29, 2015 International football 9 Comments A shake of the head and a roll of the eyes is the most anyone could muster when confirmation of Sepp Blatter’s reelection was confirmed earlier today, for the grim reality of the situation is just how inevitable it was. Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, Blatter’s only competition for the presidency of FIFA, had spent the days leading up to the vote trying to sound optimistic, but privately, even he must have accepted he couldn’t win. All this came in the wake of a corruption scandal that surprised no one. The shady goings-on at the Bond Villain HQ of world football’s governing body is old news that’s simply been given a brighter spotlight by the World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022. The FBI and Swiss investigations into wrongdoing, followed by the arrests made in the days preceding the election, should have been enough to warrant Blatter’s resignation, but Blatter – whose presidency has been littered by scandals – is as stubborn and bulletproof as they come; resignation will never have crossed his mind. Blatter may be suspected of wrongdoing and the investigations may yet end up at his doorstep, but as things stand, Blatter hasn’t been proven guilty of any crime. That shouldn’t really matter of course. For most, Blatter’s ‘innocence’ is beside the point. Under his watch, widespread and systemic corruption has spread through the ranks of FIFA, permeating every corner of the organisation. Whether he was complicit in that corruption or not should be irrelevant. If he was, he’s a criminal, if he wasn’t, he’s grossly incompetent. Either way, this isn’t a man who should be leading the world game. Yet the unfortunate reality is, Blatter was democratically elected by the member associations and that fact alone provides Blatter with his bullet-dodging superpowers. Sepp knew, the second this latest corruption scandal hit, that the FIFA presidency election would still go his way and now that’s been confirmed, the result gives him all the ammunition he needs to fire back and spin this latest scandal to his advantage. You may laugh at how futile any attempts to spin this will sound, but that’s probably because you’re living in Europe or North America and seeing the crisis through a filter of western media. In some parts of the world, Blatter isn’t seen as an incompetent, cartoonish villain undermining the integrity of the world game, but as a victim of Western elitism. UEFA are, without contest, the most powerful confederation in world football, but their votes are insignificant to Blatter because they count equal to that of an Asian or African vote, regions where Blatter is very popular – perhaps rightly so, as both regions have hosted World Cups and developed considerably (in a football sense) under his watch. Add a little conspiracy and spin from Blatter (and his powerful allies) and the undeniable justification for these investigations (ie. countries spending significant sums of tax payers’ money on a corrupt bidding process) is silenced by cries of elitism. The story becomes one of western powers throwing a collective tantrum, allowing Blatter to cast himself as some kind of great reformer. A hero of the ‘little guy’ UEFA’s nuclear option Yet UEFA still hold the trump card in all of this. Their votes may be insignificant in the face of Blatter’s masterclass of political theatre, but cold hard cash comes largely from UEFA and North American involvement in FIFA. It didn’t escape the attention of annoyed fans that cash is king in world football and in light of Wednesday’s arrests, an online petition was immediately launched calling for sponsors to abandon FIFA, something they’ve been reluctant to do despite issuing statements condemning the culture and calling for immediate reform. The sponsors recognise how easily replaced they are by FIFA because the huge audiences FIFA tournaments command is a spotlight like no other for their brands. But unlike the votes of national football associations, not all potential customers are created equal – at least, not in the eyes of sponsors. Exposure to the western market commands a premium and without European and North American interest, the money FIFA can make drops considerably. What would drop even more considerably is broadcast revenues. This is the highest revenue stream by far for FIFA, generating much more income than sponsorships do, and here again, European and North American interest is key because TV networks in these regions pay the most money – money they’d have no interest in paying if they can’t sell the product to their own customers (be it via subscription, advertisers or both) because none of the teams their viewers are interested in are involved. Nothing would scream ‘power coup by the elite’ like UEFA and North America pulling out of FIFA to starve them of massive revenues, but a World Cup without European and North American interest is a World Cup that makes very little money. If UEFA and North America go nuclear and the money dries up, Blatter’s power quickly begins to crumble. Only then can world football expect genuine reform.