Sepp Blatter's resignation - what it means and what happens next?
FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced his resignation on Tuesday amid the corruption scandal that has rocked world football's governing body. Gabriele Marcotti takes us through the "Game of Thrones" style intrigue and what we might expect next.
Q: So Sepp Blatter's gone. Just like that.
A: Well, not really. Not for another six to nine months, at which point a new FIFA president will be elected. But yeah, Blatter has resigned.
Q: Should I buy the reasons he gave? Like feeling that he didn't have a mandate from everybody and so it was best that he step aside?
A: No, that would be foolish. Unless you're elected in North Korea, you generally don't get 100 percent of the vote. Somebody will always be against you. That's politics, and whatever else you may think about him, Blatter knows politics. He knew that he had plenty of enemies who wanted to bring him down. He's known it for 20 years.
Q: So why did he go? Was it fear of a possible indictment? The Swiss investigation into 2018 and 2022?
A: Maybe that was part of it, but we don't know yet. Obviously stepping down isn't going to spare him prosecution if he is indeed indicted (just ask Jack Warner). More likely, I think, he's trying to somehow salvage his reputation and legacy.
Q: Come on now, does Blatter have a reputation to salvage?
A: Well, 133 FIFA members voted for him, and no, they're not all corrupt or insane or voting purely out of fear. Some are legitimately grateful to him. Under his stewardship, the game became a commercial juggernaut and grew tremendously.
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Q: Wouldn't that have happened anyway? It's the world's most popular sport. Anybody from Khloe Kardashian to SpongeBob SquarePants could have been in charge and the money would have flowed.
A: Maybe so, but the question is where the money would have ended up. Would it have gone to the countries where the game is already big, the ones that dominate World Cups or at least qualify for them? Or would it have been shared out more equitably? That's part of Blatter's legacy, too, and that's why he was so popular in many parts of the world. Of course, you could also point out that it's not so difficult to be popular when you give guys money for development projects and then don't worry too much about whether half of it goes into their back pockets.
Q: Are you saying Blatter needs to be liked?
A: He cares about how he is remembered, sure. Maybe he was OK with being hammered for FIFA's culture of corruption if it meant being a hero to just over half the world. Maybe he saw it as realpolitik, the price of doing business, or, as he might say, the price of changing the world for the better. After all, this is a guy who would probably take credit for ending the Cold War, developing Africa and maybe even peace in the Middle East (should we ever get there). He was serious when he said he wanted to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Q: And now that he's having his King Lear moment, Blatter wants to reinvent himself as the great reformer?
A: It looks that way. Why else would he have gone on about implementing Mark Pieth's reforms? These were reforms that would have made FIFA more accountable and more transparent and helped weed out corruption. They've been sitting on his desk for three years. Until Tuesday, he did nothing to adopt them.
Q: OK, so he's in charge for another six to nine months and then we have elections. Who's going to run? Who's going to win?
A: It's early and everybody is still digesting what just happened. But you can see, I think, three key men playing a role in deciding the next boss. One is Michel Platini of UEFA. The other is Issa Hayatou of the Confederation of African Football. And then there's Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who heads the Asian Football Confederation.
Q: Are they going to run?
A: Of the three, only Platini might run. He would have run in 2011 if Blatter hadn't stood again. Hayatou ran in 2002, but at 70 years old, he may be content to run CAF. Africa traditionally bloc votes, and they're the biggest confederation. Hayatou can basically cut a deal to suit Africa's interests. Sheikh Salman took over the AFC presidency in 2013, and I think he's fine where he is. But what they will do is wield power. Sheikh Salman is tight with Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmed Al-Sabah, who is extremely well-connected. He's a possible candidate.
Q: What about the other confederations?
A: Well, Oceania and South America are small, with 11 and 10 nations, respectively. They won't move the needle, plus CONMEBOL are in transition. Then there's CONCACAF, whose president, Jeffrey Webb, was indicted. There's an interim guy, Alfredo Hawit, in charge, but it's a pretty divided confederation right now, so I doubt they have the clout to move in unison.
Q: So it's Platini versus Sheikh Ahmed?
A: Not necessarily. Right now, everybody is trying to figure out how things are shaking out. Nobody wants to move prematurely. They may try to cut a deal or try to find a consensus candidate.
Q: OK, enough politics. What about 2018 and 2022? I know the Qatar stock exchange took a hammering after Blatter's resignation.
A: Yes, and BuzzFeed's Heidi Blake, who's been front and centre in some of the Qatar reporting, is saying that the Qataris are really worried. I think you have to assume both Russia and Qatar are on the table in light of the Swiss investigation and also because it really doesn't take that much, in terms of FIFA regulations, to open a revote.
A: All you need is evidence of corruption or political interference, plus a vote from the executive committee.
Q: Hang on. Platini voted for Qatar. And Sheikh Ahmed, being from the Gulf, will presumably want to protect his neighbours ...
A: It's not that simple. If there's evidence of wrongdoing both might figure it's in their best interests to move the World Cup elsewhere. What held true back at the time of the vote might not hold true today. The same goes for Russia.
Q: But Russia is only three years away!
A: True, but there's always a contingency plan. Colombia was named to host the 1986 World Cup and then pulled out three and a half years before the tournament. Obviously in Russia's case it would be really tight. If FIFA opted to move it, they would have to choose a host that would require minimal investment in infrastructure. But there are enough of those.
Q: So what's the biggest takeaway from all this?
A: Well, we've seen that power can change hands, and that's an important message. To me the key is whether the reforms can pass. If they do, it will be far harder to develop the power base that enables corruption. And there will be more oversight and transparency, which will further make it harder to steal money.
Which, in turn, might mean that the bad guys who only get involved in football governance to make money or wield power will stay away. We'll get better people, which will equal less corruption and less waste and more money for what truly matters: growing, developing and protecting the sport.
I hope I'm not being naive.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.