Opportunity goes begging for Blatter to clean up Fifa and leave a lasting legacy

The head of world football's governing body missed out on the chance to send a clear message after insisting he's powerless to punish his predecessor Joao Havelange
By Keir Radnedge

Sepp Blatter may come to regret not having pushed the Fifa reform process faster, higher and stronger as his colleagues on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would say.

He would then, at least, have put some clear water between today’s task-force-entrapped governing body and the rotten-to-the-core ethic fostered by Joao Havelange, his presidential predecessor.

The Brazilian accomplished historic, ground-breaking achievements on behalf of both football in particular, and sport in general. But the glitter had been tarnished long before formal clarification of the manner in which he and his then son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira raided the family silver.

"On July 14-17 2009, an agreement on jurisdiction was concluded with the competent authorities of the Canon of Zug, according to which the criminal of authorities ... would prosecute persons unknown and Richard Terra Teixeira and Joao Havelange for alleged criminal acts to the detriment of Fifa."

Keep it all in the family? Indeed. To the tune of €11.5 million or more.

Blatter came under heavy personal media pressure in the wake of the International Sport and Leisure (ISL) 'release' to answer why he, as senior administrator within Fifa during the ISL era, did not blow the whistle?

He answered publicly that the receipt of commissions - as dumped by the sackload on Havelange and Teixeira - was not then against Swiss law (he might have answered, under his breath: 'And I would have been sacked without the hope of ever working in any sport again, anywhere').

However Blatter’s sidestep ignores the fact that the Swiss prosecutors had spent three years following a banking paper trail through Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Andorra to raise a criminal case against Havelange and Teixeira. That was halted only by the infamous buy-off in which Fifa was deeply involved.

So there was a prima facie case of law-breaking. Just read the ISL file.

Either way, Blatter was handed an opportunity to salve Fifa’s corporate conscience - if not his own - when congress re-elected him last year as president for a fourth term.

"Any person who commits a felony or a misdemeanour in Switzerland is subject to the provisions of the Swiss Penal Code ... Both Richard Terra Teixeira and Joao Havelange ... are accused of having breached their duties towards Fifa, which has its domicile in Zurich, by failing to disclose and deliver payments to Fifa that they received from the ISMM/ISL Group."

Pushed largely by the media, whose credibility has been endorsed tellingly by the Swiss Supreme Court this week, Blatter proposed a programme of across-the-board structural reform.

He even held out the prospect of working at such speed that the opportunity goes begging for Blatter to clean up Fifa and leave a lasting legacy 208 national associations could be summoned back to vote on change at an extraordinary congress later in 2011.

But when the media trooped back to Zurich for a post-exco press conference in October it was to see a reform ship semi-submerged in an ocean of task forces. Congress in May in Budapest was asked to vote on ‘only’ the restructuring of the ethics committee.

Age limits, term limits, committee compositions, the precise operational role of the president... all kicked into the long grass of another year's talking shop.

Hence the perception that very little difference exists - in political terms - between old Fifa and new Fifa.

Blatter is a supremely skilled political operator. But even he may have missed a trick here.