It turns out Sepp Blatter’s relationship with Fifa was not quite a “’til death do us part” one.
Just days after winning a fifth term as Fifa president, the man loved by some and loathed by many made a shock decision to call it quits, proving his naysayers (including this one) wrong.
Of course his resignation comes against a backdrop of corruption allegations against senior Fifa members. Something changed dramatically for Blatter to step down when only five days ago he said: “For the next four years, I will be in command of this boat called Fifa.” It seems very unlikely that he wasn’t forced to leave.
But what does Blatter’s resignation mean for Fifa and the future of international football?
For one, Blatter won’t be vacating office immediately. Fifa will only hold an extraordinary elective congress in December at the earliest, so the organisation won’t be a Blatter-free zone for another six months.
Those worried about Blatter’s influence during this period were probably vindicated by his statement when he announced his decision to step down: “Since I shall not be a candidate, and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.
“For years, we have worked hard to put in place administrative reforms, but it is plain to me that while these must continue, they are not enough.”
In other words, the very changes that football fans hope to see in the post-Blatter era will be driven by Blatter himself.
There is hope, though, if leading football figures are to be believed.
Uefa president Michel Platini commented on Blatter quitting: “It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision.”
And retired Portuguese footballer Luis Figo, who pulled out of the Fifa presidential race, wrote on Facebook: “A good day for Fifa and for football.
“Change is finally coming. I said on Friday that the day would come sooner or later. Here it is!
“Now we should, responsibly and calmly, find a consensual solution worldwide in order to start new era of dynamism, transparency and democracy in Fifa.”
Easier said than done, Figo. Real change will require drastic action and a total overhaul of the way Fifa does business.
Second, Fifa has become more about politics (and money) than football. The United States and most of Europe were firmly against Blatter, while Africa and Asia were in his corner.
Fifa’s Goal programme was one of the reasons Blatter enjoyed Africa’s support. The programme brought funding and helped build football projects around the world. African countries believe Blatter is the only one who cares about them.
The Guardian reported that Fifa’s Goal page for Zambia shows Blatter standing next to a Zambian holding a placard saying: “Sepp Blatter. The only man who attends to Africa’s problems.”
In his time at the helm, Blatter brought the World Cup to Asia and Africa for the first time. How South Africa won it may be the $10 million dollar question, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Blatter was the one who helped bring it to this continent.
Fifa, though, needs to urgently look into the processes it uses to award World Cups. South Africa aside, the 2018 tournament being given to Russia and 2022 to Qatar are still the most contentious.
English Football Association chairperson Greg Dyke said after Blatter’s resignation: “We can go back to looking at those two World Cups. “If I were Qatar right now I wouldn’t be feeling very comfortable.”
The bidding process is too easily manipulated. Transparency will be key here while Fifa should continue making bold decisions to promote football in Asia and Africa.
Finally, as a so-called nonprofit organisation, Fifa has to give back more to the countries it so happily uses and often abuses while filling its coffers.
The problem goes much deeper than one man, so Blatter’s resignation alone is unlikely to make much difference.
Now that Blatter has finally made the right decision, Fifa has to make sure whomever takes over brings real change and doesn’t lose focus of the fact that he serves football and not the other way around.