The Blatter Phenomenon: The Unlimited Corruption In Sport Organizations

“Hard Choices”

Joseph Blatter 5 times President of FIFA, the most influential person of world football and head of the biggest non-profit (sic!) organization in the World just resigned(?), following many controversy and recent corruptions scandals. Is his story a one case of bad leadership or a systematic failure?

The man himself have sparked many controversies, through his inappropriate behaviours, like his sexist/degrading comments, the latest arrests of FIFA officials for taking bribes, in close relations to the dubious 2022 Qatar World Cup bid and it’s human sacrifices. His long career as sport administrator brings up the question: How was he possible to stay in his office for 17 years?[1] The answer, over the fact that in the last two elections he ran unopposed, lies in the build-up of FIFA, and more broadly: sports organizations.

Surprisingly(?) the problem is not (only) the persona of Sepp Blatter, but the whole power structure of the Organization which he leads. The news about the bribing of officials – through cash, expensive gifts, luxury travels and trips, scholarships or job opportunities for relatives, etc. – is not an unique case. It’s enough just to remember the case of 2002 Winter Olympics bid of Salt lake City and also very recently in the Hungarian Paralympic Committee scandal we can see the same pattern. And this pattern is what Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith calls “Private Goods in Small Coalition Settings” in their book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics.[2]

“Cash Rules Everything Around Me…”

The way both of these organizations are operating is based on a “small coalition” of individuals (in IOC 115 members, while in FIFA 24 members have votes in executive committees) whom manages a relatively substantial sum of money (the International Olympic Committee spent around 5.5 billion USD between 2005-2008, while the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil cost [according to FIFA] around $15 billion) and power (in IOC for a successful bid you need around 58 votes, while with FIFA only 12). This structure of power encourages corruption: a small group of individuals makes decisions about – in this case – competition host bids, which costs a significant amount of money for the bidders and potential organizers of the Olympics or World Cups. These costs cover not only the infrastructure and the logistics, but according to the BBC’s news (investigate journalist) programme Panorama the bribing of IOC and FIFA members for a “mere” $100.000-$200.000 and $800.000 respectively is not a huge amount compared to other expenses. Because if a small group wields such power and influence without oversight or self-control, it is very likely they turn out to be like the IOC and FIFA did.

The solution? First might be to get rid of the “rotten apples”, replace them with men and women of integrity (Sir Alex Ferguson, David Dein have vast respect and experience and currently might have some “freetime”, while Pia Sundhage and Jillian Ellis both have huge competence, and still in the women’s game). Transparency, accountability and control are also required which (according to Bueno de Mesquita and Smith) can be through the change of power balance: recruit more electors (Olympians or players or other stakeholders) to distribute the power, making it more difficult to compromise these associations which were meant to guard the ethos of sports not ruin it.

Long story short, currently maybe there is chance to change the system not only the faces/actors, and even though he’s not charged with anything (yet) all I can say about Mr. Blatter is:

sod_logo[1] For more information I highly recommend John Oliver’s skit on the 2014 World Cup and the recent scandal
[2] The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics. Random House. 2011. p. 272. ISBN 9781610390446. OCLC 701015473

About the author: My name is László Bugyi (24) from Hungary, currently an International Relations/European Studies MA student of University of Szeged, Hungary. Proud graduate of the First School of Democracy.


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