“I will never forget May 27,” FIFA’s former president Sepp Blatter said, recalling the day last year when US prosecutors portrayed the organisation he led as a criminal enterprise, sparking 12 months of scandal that upended world football.
“It shook me. It profoundly affected me and FIFA to hear the American justice department talk about FIFA as a mafia organisation,” Blatter told AFP.
He made the comments ahead of the one-year anniversary of the pre-dawn raid on a five-star Zurich hotel where seven officials, in town for a FIFA congress, were arrested by Swiss police acting on US warrants.
Since then, prosecutors in New York have indicted 40 football and sports marketing executives over allegedly receiving tens of millions of bribes and kickbacks.
The 80-year-old Blatter has been banned by FIFA for six years over ethics violations and is the target of a criminal investigation in Switzerland.
Some of Blatter’s closest allies, like former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, have pled guilty to using their power within football to steal funds, while others, including his long-serving number two Jerome Valcke, have been banished from the game and are facing prosecution.
Yet Blatter, who has argued his innocence and blamed others for tarnishing the world’s most popular sport, suggested the unprecedented year of scandal may not have happened if the United States had been awarded a World Cup.
“The affair is not over, because the Americans are bad losers,” he said, a reference to Qatar winning hosting rights to the 2022 tournament, beating out a US bid.
Swiss prosecutors have opened a graft probe into Qatar’s bid and the process that saw the 2018 World Cup awarded to Russia.
Gianni Infantino, who replaced his fellow Swiss national Blatter as FIFA’s president in February, has pledged to lead the world body into a new era.
“The crisis is over,” proclaimed the 46-year-old Infantino at a congress in Mexico earlier this month, where he highlighted the adoption of a much-hyped reform package.
It includes curbs on the president’s authority and the re-branding of the executive committee -- which had become infested with graft -- into a FIFA Council designed to operate like a corporate board of directors.
The post of general secretary has been upgraded to a CEO-type role. For that job, Infantino hired a football outsider, 54-year-old Diouf Samoura of Senegal, who has 21 years of experience within the United Nations system.
But the Mexico congress and its aftermath proved that FIFA remains an unsettled organisation, possibly with undiscovered skeletons still in its closet.
The audit and compliance chief, Dominico Scala, quit during the congress in protest at what he called attacks on reforms, after the Council was given temporary authority over the nominations to independent panels, like the ethics committee.
Swiss criminal law professor Mark Pieth, who led a previous clean-up attempt at FIFA and is close to Scala, said Infantino had “dropped the mask” of a reformer and was “falling back to the worst times of Blatterism.”
Infantino shot back in editorial on May 19 urging that “premature conclusions and speculation” should not taint his administration and that the decision in Mexico was appropriate strictly on an interim basis.
Four days later, another holdover from the Blatter-era, deputy general secretary Markus Kattner, was sacked for allegedly awarding himself millions in bonuses, in a new blow to FIFA’s severely damaged reputation.
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