The FIFA scandal is a turning point. America, via its justice system, has just exercised decisive influence on soccer history. This takeover — won by default, having failed to do so on the field — is the start of a new era.
Henry Kissinger dreamed of seeing the U.S. play an important role in soccer, the king of sports. How can the most powerful country on the planet settle for secondary status in the hierarchy of “football” greats? Actual power and symbolic power should go hand in hand. America makes the world dream, so Americans should learn to dream about soccer.
The U.S. (with the significant exception of its women’s team) has still not reached the pinnacle of this sport, or at least not “on the field.” But America, via its justice system, has just exercised a decisive influence on soccer history. It’s the only country, without a doubt, that could do this. From banking to sex scandals, everyone knows that you don’t mess with the American justice system.
By putting an end — by power of “dissuasion,” one would be tempted to say — to the Blatter era and, one must hope, to the whole system he put in place, the U.S. has, in a roundabout way, fulfilled Henry Kissinger’s dream.
Geopolitically speaking, the re-election for a fifth term of one of the most powerful and controversial men in the world of sports seemed to confirm the beginning of a new world. Europe could continue to snatch up victories on the field in the final stages of the World Cup, but the real power was elsewhere. The “Union of Humiliation,” including the African continent, the majority of South America and not forgetting Putin’s Russia, was enough to defeat the democratic West and its arrogance. According to the formula of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in the world of soccer, the Old World coalition was giving way, at the level of decision-making power at least, to the New World. Wasn’t this the most glaring confirmation of the fact that, in stages, the torch of history was being passed into new hands? Although Blatter is Swiss, he was the candidate of the emerging class or of those who had the ambition to re-emerge. Despite his national origin and his not-so-modest lifestyle, according to him, he represented all those who, in one way or another, opposed the establishment and the order put in place and imposed by European and Western men.
Blatter’s new reign only lasted four days. The American justice system was at his heels and would have demonstrated that he was not the careless but integral man he pretended to be. He preferred to throw in the towel rather than admit defeat. Geopolitically speaking, how should we interpret this last spectacular rebound? Should we say, as some do, that the democratic West has returned, or in other words, that “the Empire of Good (or at least that of integrity and justice)” has counterattacked? Are the democracies taking their revenge by putting an end to the senseless excesses of a soccer federation that, in its financial calculations and its mafia-like behavior, no longer seemed to know its limits, and thereby endangered the credibility of the most popular sport in the world and the legitimacy of those who embodied it both in and outside the stadium? The reality is certainly less Manichaean. Blatter also, and perhaps mostly, had to resign because his economic sponsors, among the most powerful groups in the world, were worried about the amplitude of the scandal and its impact on their brands, and forced him to resign by abandoning him, after having, without a doubt, deliberately turned a blind eye to his excesses. He was no longer good for business.
The extent of the scandal is such that it is unlikely the men who were too close to the old president for too long could portray the necessary moral renewal. In this regard, Michel Platini, whatever his incontestable merits may be, is probably not the man for the job. We need a Mr. Clean who is not a part of the current system. The soccer authorities should take the time required to find him.
Starting from scratch cannot be limited solely to choosing the right people. A future cannot be built on a past that struggled with this issue. Does this mean questioning the choices made by yesterday’s leadership team for Moscow in 2018 and Qatar in 2022? We must of course separate these two decisions. Russia has a long soccer tradition and some of its players, like former goalkeeper Lev Yachine, are part of the sport’s legend. Challenging the choice of Moscow for the 2018 World Cup would also be too great a gift for Putin, who would use it as a propaganda weapon against the U.S. and Europe. The case for Qatar is very different. Beyond all other considerations, simple common sense regarding the current climate should lead us to reconsider a decision that was made, to put it diplomatically, as much for financial reasons as for sport-related ones, and that threatens the balance of all the European competitions of the 2021-2022 season.
“War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men,” said Clemenceau. Soccer has become too serious a matter to entrust to a corrupt clique. The American justice system acted in some way on behalf of us all.