The FIFA ethics committee has imposed eight-year suspensions on both the current and once-likely future presidents of FIFA. This effectively topples FIFA’s once-entrenched ruling hierarchy, and marks the most important achievements to date of the U.S.-led corruption investigation.
Current (though suspended) president Sepp Blatter and his groomed replacement, Michel Platini, were found to have abused their positions in relation to a $2 million payment Blatter made to Platini in 2011. The payment coincided with Platini’s decision to not challenge Blatter for the presidency.
This announcement is important on several levels.
First, the suspensions break the chain of leadership that stretches back over 40 years. The Brazilian Jaoa Havelange assumed the presidency in 1974 and established both the structure, and the culture, of modern FIFA governance. He hand-picked Blatter to succeed him, and Blatter in turn groomed Platini. With Platini out, the next president will not come from this hereditary line. We are all eager to see whether fresh blood will translate into improved governance.
This suspension also serves as redemption for the German head of FIFA’s adjudicatory chamber, Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert. Recall that former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia been brought in as an independent investigator when revelations of impropriety related to the Russia and Qatar awards arose. Garcia reportedly discovered substantial corruption, but his findings were never made public and the report was published with an embarrassing degree of redaction. Eckert was largely responsible for these decisions, and both he and FIFA took major reputational hits. But Eckert has now proven that he is not merely protecting the FIFA ruling elite; he is actually working to protect FIFA.
Finally, these suspensions constitute yet another domino to fall as a result of the U.S. DOJ’s initial FIFA indictments. Those indictments first led the Swiss authorities to open a criminal investigation against Blatter, and have now pressured the Eckert-led FIFA ethics committee to take serious action.
The FIFA investigation is rapidly becoming the world’s foremost symbol that anti-corruption enforcement can make a difference; that systemic corruption is in fact not inevitable. Of course, the extent to which these enforcement actions will result in systemic change to FIFA’s governance remains to be seen. Still, we are witnessing an historic moment in the global anti-corruption movement, and kudos to those most responsible for making it happen.
Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Associate Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.