Last year will go down as the most horrible period in Fifa’s 111-year history. S’Busiso Mseleku looks back and says it was obvious a shake-up was in store
Just as it is found in Daniel 5 in the Bible, many would argue – and rightfully so – that the writing had been on the wall for Fifa for a long time.
There were many indications in the 17-year reign of Herr Sepp Blatter that, just like the message to King Belshazzar – mene, mene, tekel, upharsin – he had been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
And just as the biblical words translate to “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end”, Blatter’s reign has come to an end.
The last opportunity to save Fifa – which was missed – came in the form of Michael J Garcia’s report in 2014.
The former US attorney was appointed on July 17 2012 as the lead prosecutor to investigate allegations of corruption in world football.
One of his first tasks was to go through a Swiss court document on a World Cup kickbacks scandal. He had to evaluate Blatter and other senior Fifa officials’ behaviour in the affair.
At the time, the latest scandal to hit Fifa had been that the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, won by Russia and Qatar, respectively, were manipulated through bribes and unscrupulous behaviour.
After two and a half years of travelling the globe to gather information and interview witnesses, Garcia handed his report to Fifa in December 2014. In its wisdom, the Fifa executive committee unanimously decided to publish a “legally appropriate version” of the report (see graphic).
In response, Garcia resigned in a huff and said an “erroneous” version of his investigation had been published. In a scathing statement, he accused Fifa of a “lack of leadership” and did not spare his ethics committee colleague, German Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, saying he had lost confidence in his independence.
Looking back, this was easily the beginning of the end for many Fifa top dogs, including president Blatter, his long-time right-hand, secretary-general Jérôme Valcke, and Uefa president Michel Platini.
The events that followed in 2015 were enough for a sequel to Chinua Achebe’s classic novel Things Fall Apart.
The first indications that the year would fit the Latin phrase “annus horribilis”, meaning horrible year, became evident on May 27, when seven top officials were arrested at a five-star Zurich hotel two days before the elective congress.
Despite this, Fifa went ahead with presidential elections and Blatter defeated Jordanian Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein for a fifth term, only to step down three days later. What followed was an ugly potpourri of events that saw more top soccer officials being indicted or arrested.
Some, such as the former Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football president and long-serving Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, received life bans from the sport.
South Africa was implicated in allegations of having paid a $10 million bribe to Warner to win the rights to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Germany’s organising committee was accused of having run a slush fund that facilitated them winning the rights to host the 2006 version.
This led to German football association (DFB) president Wolfgang Niersbach resigning “with a heavy heart”, saying this was “in order to protect the DFB”.
Many other skeletons tumbled out of the Fifa cupboard, leading to Valcke being suspended indefinitely and Blatter and Platini receiving 90-day bans from the Fifa ethics committee – eventually being banned for eight years each.
There have been several calls for the remaining executive members to resign en masse.
Maybe, just maybe, this could be the start of a cure for Fifa’s severely tarnished image, even before the February 26 presidential elections.