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Indictments Raise Questions About Sepp Blatter's Reign Over FIFA


When the stunning indictment was outlined against soccer's governing body today, a lot of people asked this question - what about Sepp Blatter? He's the head of FIFA, arguably the most powerful sports body in the world. Blatter is not among those indicted, but he's been FIFA's president for nearly 20 years. NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Joseph "Sepp" Blatter has been FIFA president since 1998 and has presided over unprecedented growth during that time. In the riches, FIFA earned through skyrocketing TV rights deals and a growing uneasiness about what was happening with that money. You could see it in his regal lifestyle, but it was where you couldn't see that caused concern - FIFA's lack of transparency, the unaudited financial reports. Soccer always was the people's game, FIFA leaders said, and now soccer is the ultimate victim of what law enforcement officials detailed today. Kelly Currie is the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.


KELLY CURRIE: The reason that these people were able to make so much money corruptly goes to the love that people have for the sport. And so it's taking that love and skimming off the marketing rights that allow these people to enrich at themselves and line their pockets.


GOLDMAN: It was just a sigh - or was it? - as FIFA's chief communications officer Walter De Gregorio settled in before the microphone today in Zurich, bracing for the questions about his wounded organization. De Gregorio quickly identified the silver lining.


DE GREGORIO: For FIFA, for this is good. This is good - what happens. It confirms that we are on the right track. It hurts. It's not easy, but it's the only way to go.

GOLDMAN: FIFA President Blatter echoed the sentiment in a statement released this afternoon. Speaking of the indictments, Blatter said, quote, "such misconduct has no place in football, and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game. Following the events of today, the independent ethics committee took swift action to provisionally ban those individuals named by authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level," end quote.

Of course, the issue of whether Blatter would be put out of office has been the FIFA story before today. A presidential election has been scheduled for Friday in Zurich. FIFA spokesman De Gregorio said today it'll go on as planned. But what about the outcome? The consensus is that Blatter would be re-elected to a fifth-straight term, but that consensus was formed when FIFA corruption was less certain than it is today. Investigative reporter Andrew Jennings has been investigating FIFA since 2001. He now describes Friday's election as a joke.

ANDREW JENNINGS: The delegates that will vote for him are from countries that don't have professional football, are given a million dollars a year to spend on development grants. So they'll vote for him - no credibility. Where's Sepp Blatter going to go?

GOLDMAN: And what will he do, if he wins re-election, about the continuing problems with FIFA's choice of future World Cup sites, particularly 2022 in Qatar? There were bribery allegations regarding the bidding for that World Cup. And FIFA has been dealing with growing criticism about the documented poor living conditions for migrant laborers working on Qatar 2022 infrastructure.

Jennings thinks that World Cup, with all its problems, will end up elsewhere - maybe even the U.S., which finished second in the voting for 2022. FIFA insisted today there'll be no revote on 2022. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says law enforcement officials don't have a say in whether the tournament goes forward as is. That's up to FIFA, which, Lynch said today, has a lot of soul-searching to do. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.