I'm an old guy and I can still remember the day I first fell in love. I was a second-grader not only in a new school, but in a new school in a far off land, in a country that spoke a funny language some 4,800 miles away from my home state of Maryland.
A product of a typical American sports family in the late 1960's, I was all about playing football, basketball, and baseball and then taking summers to, well, be a kid again; throwing stones, playing in the stream, catching frogs and salamanders, and just enjoying the time away from any structure or organization that adults would impose.
That day in the late fall of 1969 was a day that would forever change my life and thus the lives of many others (good or bad, not sure yet) that I have come in contact with as a teammate, opponent, official or as a coach.
That's the day I was introduced to the beautiful game of soccer.
This time of year soccer fans worldwide would be focused on the upcoming summer tournaments and in this year's case, lucky enough to have the Women's World Cup going on north of the border. Instead, soccer fans are being dragged through the media blitz and the fiasco that is FIFA and the leaders that have made it their "home," so to speak.
Shortly after an overnight raid on the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, the U.S. Department of Justice issued indictments against a total of 14 people including nine high ranking FIFA officials and another five in the sports marketing world. They were arrested for a bribery and payoff scheme totaling more than $150 million related to the rewarding of television rights and hosting rights for FIFA's largely popular World Cup and other FIFA sponsored tournaments. The indictment shows that the beginning of the trail of corruption started as far back as 1991 and put a stain on the fabric of the world's most popular sport.
The one that has slipped away unscathed, at least so far, is the head of this web of corruption, FIFA president Sepp Blatter. He recently tendered his resignation but has yet to leave office. Blatter has been at the helm of FIFA since taking over for former head, Brazilian Joao Havelange, in 1998 although he had served as the chief executive officer with oversight for the five world cups in Spain, Mexico, Italy, USA, and France leading up to his presidential election.
His supporters will highlight the many wonderful things that have happened during Blatter's reign and to be fair, there are many positives from his 20-plus year run at the top. As director of FIFA's Development Programs, a position he held before taking over the entire organization, he laid the foundation for the U20 and U17 age groups to have similar World Cup tournaments, as well as for the women's game and even moving the game indoors in the FIFA Futsal World Cup.
He also has championed an outreach program to spread the beautiful game throughout the world and use it to provide hope and assistance to many of the economically depressed areas of the world. The initiatives "Football for Hope," "Football for Health," and his "11 against Ebola" campaigns all brought attention to various aspects of life around the globe and helped promote awareness of many social and economic issues.
But the world of good and the countless millions of dollars that have been spent to promote the game and attack social issues are overshadowed by the decades long shadow of corruption over the game which all came crashing down with the recent indictments. It's hard to feel good about all of the positives that this current group of leaders brought with them to FIFA when the success is tainted with the greed and filth of shameless self-enrichment through bribery, oftentimes at the expense of more worthy suitors.
It brings a cloud over the next two World Cups and the committee's choice of Russia and Qatar as the host countries. Both countries may have provided the best proposal and earned their right to host the World Cup, but until the indictment and investigation process is complete, the second place finishers of London (2018) and USA (2022) are left wondering if they were left at the altar because they failed to effectively line the pockets of the decision makers.
FIFA should remove Blatter from his office immediately and hold open and transparent elections as soon as humanly possible so as not to further disrupt the soccer landscape. Clean house. Throw them all out and start anew. As the FIFA slogan says, do it "For the Game. For the World."