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  • Tale of Two Men -- Op Ed


    (ATR) A fall from grace for two international sport leaders could end the career for one of them. The other could still be a force to reckon with in the years ahead.

    We’re talking about Sepp Blatter, who declared this week he’s stepping down as FIFA president just days after easily winning to a fifth term. The shock generated by this move upstaged the other actor in this drama, Marius Vizer, who announced his surprise resignation as president of SportAccord two days before Blatter quit.

    In the case of Sepp Blatter, plenty of questions remain over his sudden decision to leave FIFA.

    Blatter speaks at the FIFA Congress in Zurich prior to his resignation. (ATR)
    Looming largest is whether the criminal investigation by U.S. and Swiss authorities into bribery allegations for World Cup votes triggered his decision. More than a dozen other FIFA officials and sports marketing executives are now facing charges in what could be the biggest scandal ever to hit an international sports body.

    Blatter has not been charged but a once close associate, Chuck Blazer, has pleaded guilty and has divulged claims that World Cup votes going back to the 1990s have been subject to bribery. Another former FIFA leader, Jack Warner of Trinidad, is among the group indicted by the U.S. two weeks ago and he’s threatened to come forward with explosive allegations.

    It may be only a matter of time before Blatter is somehow linked to the corruption that took place under his watch at the federation across nearly 20 years.

    He may have been told of that possibility by criminal investigators who watched his giddy acceptance speech in
    Zürich May 29. Maybe Swiss investigators who raided FIFA headquarters two weeks ago have been in touch with Blatter and his legal advisers to let him know trouble is ahead and that his administration of FIFA could become untenable under the weight of possible criminal proceedings.

    If he faces criminal charges, Swiss citizen Blatter is more likely to be prosecuted in Switzerland where extradition to the United States will not be an issue.

    And though he is not charged, Blatter may already be a prisoner so to speak in Switzerland. His lawyers may have advised him to stay within the country to avoid any chance of arrest in another nation. Blatter will not be in Canada for the FIFA Women’s World Cup which opens this weekend nor will FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who is in the midst of the controversy about $10 million sent to Jack Warner for football development in the Caribbean region. There are suspicions the money was meant to buy support for the 2010 World Cup bid of South Africa.

    Blatter says he will wait until FIFA names a successor at an extraordinary congress in the next 6 to 9 months before he steps down. In the meantime, he faces the prospect of ending his 40 years at FIFA as a figurehead, unable to travel and continually under fire over the corruption charges hanging over the organization. Should Blatter be charged, his departure from FIFA could come even earlier.

    In either case, the Blatter era has ended.

    Vizer at the SportAccord Convention in April (ATR)
    The era of Marius Vizer at SportAccord appears to be over, too, although at just two years, considerably shorter than Sepp Blatter. On May 31, three days before Blatter pulled the plug, Vizer did the same for his presidency of SportAccord after enduring a month of rebellion within the ranks over the speech he delivered in April at the opening of the SportAccord Convention in Sochi.

    In 2013 Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation, was elected president of SportAccord, the umbrella organization which is supposed to represent the world’s international sport federations, Olympic and non-Olympic.

    Vizer campaigned for more influence for the federations, more financial support. Most controversially, he pushed to create new multi-sports events that would include Olympic as well as non-Olympic sports. The IOC never embraced Vizer’s game plan and he took the pushback personally, as the sports world discovered when he spoke in Sochi.

    Vizer fired broadsides against the IOC, lambasting its lack of support for his ideas, demanding respect for international federations and dismissing the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020. IOC president Thomas Bach politely sat nearby, absorbing the surprise attack.

    Outrage from Olympic sport federations followed within minutes after Vizer finished his remarks. Athletics became the first of two dozen federations to withdraw or suspend their association with SportAccord. Lima, Peru withdrew as the host of the 2017 SportAccord World Combat Games.

    Despite his election in Sochi to a new term, in the weeks that followed, Vizer found himself losing daily votes of confidence as federation after federation announced their departure from SportAccord. An overture to meet with Bach was dismissed. A 20-point agenda for reform led to a demand from other federations that Vizer stop making such public declarations on behalf of SportAccord. Before his eyes, Vizer could see the realm of SportAccord dwindling away.

    Apparently seeing no way to turn the tide, Vizer delivered his resignation, but not quietly.

    “Everything I proposed is right and I hope to have opened a door that had been closed for a century, and I hope it remains open forever for the benefit of sport and its values,” Vizer declared.

    “I only have one question for my self-suspended colleagues: which proposal of the 20 points agenda that I submitted for the reform of sport did you disagree with?” asks Vizer.

    “I did try to collaborate with the IOC in the two years of my mandate, submitting them numerous proposals for
    collaboration between the two organizations, but these were always rejected without any plausible explanation. My door has always been open for collaboration, theirs was always closed!” Vizer said in the lengthy farewell letter.

    Vizer may be stepping down from SportAccord, but unlike Blatter, Vizer still has the opportunity to lobby for change through his presidency of the judo federation. While his 20-point agenda rubs the IOC and others the wrong way, his proposals to compensate athletes and increase funding for sports federations probably do have supporters waiting to speak up.

    Vizer leaves SportAccord in a bit of a shambles that someone else will have to clean up and put back together. But while Vizer may have created a mess, it is nothing like the legacy for FIFA from the Sepp Blatter presidency.

    Vizer may be an outlaw to the IOC over philosophical issues, far from anything criminal, and in fact a badge of honor as he sees it.

    The outlaws of FIFA are true criminals who bring dishonor to sport.
    Written by Ed Hula.

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