Why Sepp Blatter Isn’t the Problem

Two days ago, Sepp Blatter announced that he is stepping down from the FIFA presidency. Many see this as a move that signals a change of direction; perhaps the world’s most popular sport will finally clean up their act. At least, this is what we are hoping.

But the FIFA scandal is bigger than one man.

You don’t have to look far to see that the soccer culture breeds corruption. In fact, the news that made headlines last week should come as a shock to none. Rampant corruption involving bribes, racketeering and conspiracy—all these criminal practices had been carrying on at least for the past decade. What is surprising is that charges are being levied now, given how the soccer association has operated with impunity for so long.

FIFA had acted as the neighborhood bully who pounced on the weaker kids and set the rules for how the game was to be played, to their advantage. Their actions were high and heavy-handed and they couldn’t care less. After all, who was standing up to them? The kids might not have agreed to the rules, but they weren’t about to raise hell about it. Yes, FIFA, we’ll play your game.

Many expressed disbelief at the fact that Blatter was re-elected in the first place. But Blatter is really just an extension of all other constituents in this political powerplay. He served as a figurehead for a system that not only tolerates large-scale corruption but enables it. (A system which, up until this point, has not operated with any real accountability.) Other various association leaders couldn’t imagine replacing him because he has empowered them to their current positions; essentially a pack of hyenas looking after one another.

In their eyes, Blatter isn’t actually guilty of anything that they wouldn’t do themselves. For many of these figures, power is merely seen as a weapon to oppress and take advantage of others. The idea of replacing Blatter would mean allowing someone else with whom they have no standing to perpetuate the same cycle while possibly removing their own authority in the process.

The point is this: FIFA won’t change until the worldview of its constituents change. The culture of the whole association must change. They must be willing to take action against the system, not simply because it is afraid of consequences or because it is seeking reward—but because it is morally right. The people who govern FIFA must be willing to gut the system, or forfeit their positions of authority to others who will. Only then will we truly start to clean up the sport.

Anything less, and we might be resigned to a similar cycle. As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”