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The Unraveling Of FIFA

Image of Sepp Blatter, who said Tuesday he will resign as president amid the controversy surrounding FIFA.
The Sport Review/Flickr creative commons
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The soccer world is reeling from a corruption scandal at the highest levels.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Tuesday he's stepping down. Meanwhile, top soccer executives face $150 million in bribery charges and one of the accused has ties to the Carolina RailHawks.

As the FIFA Women's World Cup approaches, how will the global scandal affect soccer in the U.S. and North Carolina? 

Host Frank Stasio gets details of the latest developments in the FIFA scandal from Washington Post reporter Matt Bonesteel.

Stasio also talks with Joshua Nadel, author of Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America and professor of Latin American history at North Carolina Central University; Deborah Stroman, professor of sports marketing at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School; and Laurent DuBois, author of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France and history professor at Duke University.

When Zurich officials arrested 14 FIFA executives last week on bribery and rackeetering charges, it shook the soccer world. Though whispers of that sort of corruption had floated around soccer circles for years, the fact that the United States – not a traditional soccer powerhouse – stepped in surprised Bonesteel.

“There’s a feeling of ‘it’s about time,’” Bonesteel says. “It’s about time someone held these people to task.”

Some of the allegations involve executives bribing others for World Cup bids or sports marketing executives cutting deals with FIFA. This sort of corruption has been going on since at least 1970, Nadel says, when Guillermo Cañedo – who had executive roles with FIFA, the Mexican Soccer Federation, and a TV station, Televisa – brought the World Cup to Mexico.

Controversy also surrounds the “one country, one vote” rule in place now where every country, regardless of size, gets the same power in electing the FIFA president. The structure allows for individuals to potentially bribe smaller countries to retain their positions in FIFA.

Blatter has now indicated he will resign, but he used the “one country, one vote” rule to his advantage to win five elections.  

“He’s done things to bring in non-European countries, in particular Chile, Argentina and South Africa,” says Stroman. “Those relationships have very much helped him.”

The process for Blatter’s replacement won’t commence until the fall at the earliest, and could extend until April. But in the meantime, the arrests of the soccer officials indicate change is afoot in FIFA.

“The soccer world is all somewhat giddy about this action,” Nadel says. “By and large, this has been met with approval.”

Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
Will Michaels is WUNC's General Assignment Reporter and fill-in host for "Morning Edition"