FIFA acts like it's above the law

May, 31, 2011

It's been a bad spring for despots, strongmen and kleptocrats.

All over the world, some have fallen quickly and unceremoniously from power while others cling on desperately. Almost all are beleaguered in one way or another, as waves of violent and pacifist revolutions have shaken up the world's political landscape.

But one authoritarian regime seems impervious to revolution, criticism and public ridicule. One stands by its propaganda of everything being just fine no matter how indefensible. We're talking about FIFA, as if you needed any more hints.

For weeks, FIFA's presidential candidates -- the incumbent, Sepp Blatter, and the challenger, Mohammed bin Hammam -- have been accused of corruption. Bin Hammam was said to have tried to bribe CONCACAF members. Blatter has been accused of ignoring his duty to report such malfeasance. On Sunday, FIFA's self-appointed ethics committee ended up suspending corruption charges on bin Hammam, who pulled out of the race, and CONCACAF president Jack Warner. But bin Hammam had already pulled out of the race the day before. Blatter, now running unopposed for the global game's throne, was acquitted. Meanwhile, the still-roaring wrath of the snubbed English bid to stage the 2018 World Cup burns on. Former FA and 2018 bid chief Lord Triesman has accused several FIFA executive committee members of taking bribes in the bidding process and the FA has called for the postponement of the presidential election.

Through it all, Blatter has maintained that FIFA isn't in crisis, thus denying that he's pushed the organization over the brink of respectability. Amid the firestorm, the tiny septuagenarian Swiss leader has made it clear that FIFA shouldn't play by ordinary rules or be held accountable to anything or anyone.

This was never more obvious than when Blatter got fed up with questions from a hungry pack of journalists in a press conference Monday. "I will not answer this question," he said in response to a question about Warner. "I am the president of FIFA, you cannot question me." When the assembly was rightly outraged, he admonished it for a lack of respect for him and FIFA. And after taking a few more hard questions, he stormed off the stage, citing a lack of respect once more.

Yet the sad, sad truth of the matter is that there really is no questioning the president of FIFA. This regime still stands. The organization has leveraged its residency in Switzerland -- that long-time (ahem) taker of stands -- into a judicial impunity. And any interference from foreign governments will result in a suspension for its national and club teams in international play, the way Nigeria briefly was after the World Cup when its government interfered; and the way FIFA threatened to suspend France when president Nicolas Sarkozy got involved.

The organization has deftly maneuvered itself into a position of political independence. It can do as it pleases, meting out its own brand of justice internally -- slaps on the wrist, brief suspensions and, at worst, expulsions from the club. FIFA has absolute power with no responsibility. And there's nothing we can do about it.

So if you don't like it, you can go off and start your own club.

There's an idea.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer,
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.


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