FIFA’s ethics committee doled out a series of suspensions to high-ranking executives on Thursday, including—cue ‘Ode to Joy’—FIFA’s embattled president Sepp Blatter. Both Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini, who has been implicated in a criminal investigation for potential taking a bribe from Blatter, will serve bans of 90 days. FIFA secretary General Jerome Valcke, who had already been relieved of executive responsibilities amid corruption allegations, was also banned 90 days, while FIFA presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon was hit with a six-year ban.
On the surface, this is great news. After months of controversy, after promises to resign dovetailing with refusals to step down immediately, for the first time this millennium, Blatter is no longer in charge of FIFA. It took an unprecedented scandal, a criminal investigation and public calls from major FIFA sponsors, but the ethics committee finally decided that Blatter had to be removed.
That FIFA have finally taken action is clear. The suspensions of Blatter and Platini mark a clear turning point, a moment in which the man who has been untouchable at the organization’s head has been officially banned from its halls. But the turning of that corner may just lead down to another set of corrupt executives.
For example, the man who immediately stepped in as the temporary president of FIFA, Issa Hayatou, has already been disciplined following a bribery scandal involving the International Olympic Committee in 2011. Hayatou, the Cameroonian president of the Confederation of African Football, ascended to the position by default, as FIFA regulations state that the longest tenured member of the executive committee is automatically promoted to acting president in such a scenario. To his credit, he’s at least confirmed that he does not plan to run for the FIFA presidency next year.
That decision would be applauded by the president of the very same organization that disciplined Hayatou in 2011, the International Olympic Committee. An exasperated IOC president Thomas Bach said, simply, “enough is enough,” and that FIFA needed to look not within their ranks, but elsewhere for a “credible external candidate.”
“FIFA must realize that this is now about more than just a list of candidates,” Bach commented. “This is also a structural problem and will not be solved simply by the election of a new president.”
That FIFA’s next president will be an external candidate is far from certain, however. In fact, despite the suspensions, there is no guarantee that it won’t be Blatter himself who hands the presidency off. Nor is there any guarantee that it won’t be Michel Platini, who takes the reins of FIFA in Blatter’s wake.
Platini and Blatter’s suspensions will carry through until the new year, set to expire on January 6. If the ethics committee sees fit, they also have the option of extending those suspensions by an additional 45 days. In that case, the suspensions would expire on February 20—just under one week before the presidential elections are slated to take place. So unless FIFA moves up the election date—which, given the literally unprecedented extent of this scandal, is not impossible—or bans them for life, this suspension does not absolutely preclude Platini from being FIFA’s next president.
Both Blatter and Platini maintain that the allegations against them are false, and that Switzerland’s criminal investigation is unsubstantiated. To be fair, neither have yet been charged, and Platini is still perched precariously on the ridge between witness and suspect. Still, you don’t have to be a clairvoyant to see that the writing is on the wall.
Will FIFA’s next president be, as IOC President Bach would have it, a “credible external candidate”? The answer to that question is unclear. But that will be what dictates whether this corner turns out onto a new era, or is simply yet another wind in the road of FIFA’s series of scandals.