You can file this under obligatory moves, but it’s also a move that FIFA wouldn’t have necessarily made before. Yet in the face of a new crisis spurred by the United States’ Department of Justice, the world soccer’s governing body has handed suspensions to the 11 executives.
This gives us reason for pause. Has FIFA ever reacted as quickly to a similar crisis?
On one level, it’s a ridiculous question, as criminal charges levied by the United States represents a level of severity few organizations ever face. In that regard, it makes sense that the governing body has never reacted as drastically before. On this scale, it’s never had the opportunity to do so.
But this is also an organization that’s put itself amid endless controversy thanks to decisions to play upcoming World Cup in Russia and Qatar. Even with more narrow issues, FIFA showed a reluctance to address concerns about the use of artificial turf at the upcoming Women’s World Cup. But when United States law enforcement comes knocking and the aid of a helpful extradition treaty with Switzerland can be leveraged, it requires a more proactive approach.
That undoubtedly is why FIFA, after less than a day’s deliberation, has suspended 11 executives named in the Department of Justice’s announcement. From FIFA:
“The charges are clearly related to football and are of such a serious nature that it was imperative to take swift and immediate action. The proceedings will follow their course in line with the FIFA Code of Ethics,” said Chairman Eckert.
The banned individuals are: Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Jack Warner, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin, Nicolás Leoz, Chuck Blazer and Daryll Warner.
Again, this is obligatory, but there are implications, both as it relates to public perception and the upcoming presidential elections. On the latter, a number of power brokers loyal to the status quo have been taken out of the equation indefinitely. While that seems like a great reason to support UEFA’s desire to delay the vote, it creates a potential problem for current president Sepp Blatter if the elections go forward. Some of these men are leaders within their confederations, almost all are highly experienced and connected, and it’s possible their wants had effects beyond their individual votes. And as today’s indictments hint, each may have been significantly invested in the status quo.
But increasingly, public perception may be the true motivating factor. That FIFA conducted itself with the aloof confidence of a colonial power drew attention to its problems, giving the impression that few in the organization were acting with urgency in the face of corruption. Had the body shown the world it was serious about cleaning house, the DOJ, Swiss government, and the media might have seen it as less of a target.
Quickly suspending these executives doesn’t change that perception, but no single act will. Even if Sepp Blatter is perp-walked into a iron cage that ends up perched in the middle of FIFA’s compound, the vestiges of Blatter reign would linger after his departure. At this point it should go without saying: FIFA won’t change over night.
Today’s events could prove a tipping point, however, one that will look more pronounced if FIFA does cooperate. Perhaps scared by this new level of scrutiny, every employee from Blatter to the FIFA’s morning security guard should see cooperation in his or her best interest. And if that spurs the long process toward building a new, transparent, more critical organization, today will be seen as a new dawn.