Trecker: The crumbling cult of FIFA

Published Jun. 2, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

A surreal week that plunged world soccer into crisis ended as it began on Wednesday, with official defiance, more details of scandals, and the re-election of a man who is fast becoming the most hated figure in the sport.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter rolled to victory in a one-man "election" after his challenger Mohamed bin Hammam was suspended following allegations that he had conspired to bribe members of the Caribbean Football Association. Blatter himself was the target of a similar inquiry but was swiftly cleared of all charges.

In total, eight men have now been accused and suspended by FIFA in a widening bribes-for-votes scandal that has riveted the sports world and has the outfit reeling. Sponsors are clearly nervous about the imbroglio, which has revealed FIFA to be a deeply corrupt old-boys network that mainly serves to line its most powerful players' pockets. They have been called a "mafia," an oligarchy, and a dictatorship by observers around the world.

And yet, Wednesday before the delegates were to vote, the mood at FIFA was one of deep denial, with a number of delegates rounding on the English FA and their media for throwing a hard light on the organization.

    It was a breathtaking moment that showed what FIFA truly is.

    It's a cult.

    How else can we make sense of these men's statements? After all, FIFA itself suspended the members after accepting evidence of their malfeasance. The most serious breach was reported not by the English or their media, but by FIFA's own Chuck Blazer, Executive Committee member and general secretary of CONCACAF. These are no longer "allegations" as Mr. Koutsokoumnis claimed tartly, but matters of fact that FIFA has acted upon.


    But no. Accepting that members of their "family" — and that is a key word here — could do such things is inconceivable. One might suggest that these men are simply embarrassed to be caught with their hands in the till, but that doesn't go nearly far enough. These men are true believers. Their faith is such that not only can they not accept what is obvious to all of us in the reality-based world, but that any dissent must be a lie.

    They are all honest and honorable men — because their family line says they are. The packets of neatly stacked hundred dollar bills are still being dropped off in paper bags; the organization is sitting on a billion dollars in cash reserves and every one of the delegates has a nice hotel room, and all the perks they could ever want. Everything is just fine.

    Saying anything else would be tantamount to heresy.

    Speaking of heretics, Mr. Blazer found out how they are treated when he was apparently sacked by the acting president of CONCACAF, Lisle Austin. Austin has now twice claimed that Blazer has been fired for his temerity. Austin has also made a series of comments to the media — some of which seem unhinged, to be frank — that have reinforced the idea that any dissent from the house line must be swiftly tamped out. Blazer for his part has dismissed both "firings" as nonsense, and he seems to be remaining right where he is. The contradictory press releases from Trinidad and New York fly back and forth, and this will surely make the upcoming Gold Cup a treat.

    Blatter made a number of mildly conciliatory statements yesterday, promising "transparency" and enlisting old Nixon crony Henry Kissinger to be the face of this bold new effort. No one takes this seriously.

    But then, none of us matter, do we? They said so. It's the men inside that set the agenda, make the rules, and keep the faith.

    It's a faith that has brought the entire sport to its knees.

    Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.