2 June 2015

Blatter undone by a robust free press and the rule of law


The fall of a dictator tends to be a joyous affair. At that moment, when the presidential guard disappears, and the old booby is left standing alone on the balcony of his palace, looking in vain for a rescue helicopter and wondering where he left the keys to his safety deposit boxes stuffed with ill-gotten loot, those who have suffered under his rule get a chance to let loose a visceral howl of pleasure.

Happily for Sepp Blatter, there is no mob storming the balcony in Zurich tonight and carting him off. The boss of football’s ruling body has resigned and his misdemeanours are obviously not in the same class as those of proper dictators, although it should be said that his crazy decision to send the World Cup to the baking deserts of Qatar in 2022 had grave consequences for the thousands of migrant workers undertaking indentured labour. Several thousand have died already in the construction effort, although the numbers are disputed by the Qatari government.

But as he leaves the stage – to count his money and help the FBI with their enquiries (who knows what will come next in this extraordinary story?) – it is worth considering the wider lessons.

Here are three for starters:

1) It will be said that it was the sponsors that made the difference, although they had to be shamed into acting, and the potential loss of TV rights from Europe and the US was potentially a much bigger deal. But Blatter was really undone, at root, by great journalism from the Sunday Times and the BBC.‎ That journalism is possible because Britain still has a properly free press, which (albeit imperfectly and inconsistently) takes on the powerful.

2)‎ The rule of law still matters. Robust institutions are essential ‎if markets are to work freely and openly, and they are the bedrock of any civilised society.

3) Some members of the corporatist super-class of global bureaucrats will sleep a little less easily tonight. If a figure as powerful in world sport and global politics as Blatter can be brought down and made to account for his actions, then anyone can. It is tempting to think the corporatist global elite floats free, above such concerns, but America’s authorities are demonstrating otherwise in their pursuit of wrongdoing at FIFA. Good for them.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX