Author and scholar Jules Boykoff shares his reaction to the FIFA president’s unexpected resignation and examines whether the move opens space for real reform of the corruption and human rights abuses that went unchecked during his tenure.

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. In breaking news, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has announced he will resign. This comes almost a week after a U.S.-led investigation into a $150 million international bribery scandal engulfed the sport of football, or soccer, and just four days after Blatter’s reelection to an unprecedented fifth term. Blatter did a sudden about-face on Tuesday, and said he’s stepping down as the head of the international soccer organization. Now joining us again to discuss this and more from Portland, Oregon is Jules Boykoff. Jules teaches political science at Pacific University in Oregon. He’s a former professional soccer player. He represented the U.S. Olympic soccer team in international competition. Thanks so much for joining us again, Jules. JULES BOYKOFF, PROF. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, PACIFIC UNIVERSITY: Thank you. NOOR: So Jules, we interviewed you on Friday and we were asking the question, how has this corruption scandal not claimed the head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter? So many other top officials were getting indicted or arrested. He’s finally stepping down. What’s your reaction? BOYKOFF: Well, this is unprecedented. This is shocking. This is sending a tidal wave of worry through the soccer world. This is huge, and a lot of people would have been hard-pressed to predict it, including myself. Who would think that only being–that after elected on Friday that would all of a sudden step down. And it really indicates that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes here. It points to the Swiss investigation. So there’s the U.S. investigation that we talked a lot about on Friday by the U.S. Justice Department, but there’s also a Swiss investigation that’s open to looking at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, respectively. So there apparently is a lot more information floating out there. Blatter must have gotten nervous. And we have a lot more ahead of us. NOOR: And so we’re going to link to our full interview on Friday where you really went into what his, Sepp Blatter’s four terms as the head of FIFA really meant for the world and for soccer. But for the people that missed it, can you just give us a quick recap of what his tenure meant? BOYKOFF: Well, under the presidency of Sepp Blatter we saw on one hand the explosion of the popularity of football, or soccer, across the world. We saw it become much bigger of a moneymaking enterprise. We’ve seen corporate sponsors take on a bigger role. We’ve also, though, seen under Sepp Blatter the spreading of money across the world. We were talking on Friday about how in the heck could a guy like this get reelected? He’s so thoroughly corrupt, corruption swirls around his heels, practically his every breath. And the answer to that is because he has been distributing largesse, cultivating relationships, with football associations around the world by spreading out money so they can develop their sport in their country. And he’s developed a lot of allegiance through this sort of patronage network. So on the flipside, on one side, it looks like hey, he’s just spreading out money. This is more example of corruption. But this is really legalized corruption that also can have a very positive effect for some of these countries that have very little bit of money to spend on things like soccer, and actually helps build soccer in their country for real people that wouldn’t otherwise get to play. So it’s a complicated picture, in a lot of ways. Now, looking ahead, the big question is who’s going to run for the presidency of FIFA. Right now there’s a bunch of European honchos from the soccer world who are circling about, thinking they would love to be the FIFA president. And the question is, will they keep some of these programs that actually presented possibilities to other people, non-European countries from around the world, that really weren’t such bad programs. Sure they were open to the possibility of corruption, but weren’t in themselves corrupt programs. NOOR: And so does his resignation open up space for real reform? And you know, we talked on Friday about the atrocious human rights record, and the impact of the World Cup coming to different countries. Is this an opportunity to reform some of that? Or do people still feel that FIFA needs to be abolished entirely? BOYKOFF: Well, if we don’t have reform now within FIFA we’re never going to see it. So yes, this is definitely an opportunity for reform. I think they need to proceed ahead on a bunch of different grounds. One, for starters, is the inclusion of women at higher positions within the FIFA hierarchy. Sepp Blatter said rather awkwardly in his acceptance speech for the presidency last week, he said we need more ladies. I think what he meant by that was we need more women in position of power at FIFA. That would be a positive step forward. We also need to think about the way that World Cups are selected. How do we cut down on the bribery that is obviously thrumming through the selection process at FIFA. The people who want to abolish FIFA have a lot of grounds on which to do so. Some people have suggested having the OECD run it. Some people have said we just need an alternative World Cup to FIFA. Another approach, though, that’s been thrown out there is to divide out the sponsorship and all the selection of the World Cup host from the programming that I was just mentioning a moment ago, which would hopefully cut down on some of the corrupt activities that happens when loads of money are floating about. NOOR: Jules Boykoff, thank you so much for joining us again. BOYKOFF: Thank you. NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.


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Jules Boykoff is a professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Pacific University in Oregon. He is the author of Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London and Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games. His writing on politics and sports has appeared in places like the Guardian, the New York Times, Al Jazeera America, and Dissent Magazine. He is a former professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic Soccer Team in international competition.

Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.