Blatter’s exit Visa and the forgotten victims of the FIFA machine


Jaws are being scratched and beards pulled in newsrooms and football clubs around the world – “what made Blatter go?” – just four days after his triumphant re-election. Looking back over the past few weeks, there seem to be three main possibilities.

Right after his election he ran into deeper trouble as he played geopolitics way out of his league while FBI investigators closed in. That was a dumb move, but it’s hard to see how that would have dislodged him so quickly.

Or it could be that people in Switzerland, now that the Swiss government has opened corruption enquiries, tapped him on his shoulder, adding to what was already a heavy load. But that’s not really the Swiss way.

Then there’s the FBI and their US law-enforcement comrades. When the FBI started to show an interest some years ago, they started writing their team sheet of who might be indicted. Sepp Blatter and his General Secretary Jerome Valcke were not named in the starting line-up.

Neither of them were football superstars in their younger days, so no surprise in that.

But rumours grew that they may be called in from the substitutes’ bench. OK, so maybe Mr Blatter learned he was facing indictment.

But that doesn’t best explain his choice to stay on for a few more months. No point in shredding documents, it’s all on the net anyway. In any case the Fibbies hate a fibber, so they will keep looking until they are sure there are none left that they can touch.

Something more subtle is at work. The big global corporate sponsor monster has been raising its head. Only one of them mouthing more than platitudes, but we’ll come to that.

First, let’s cast our minds back to the corruption scandal before this one. Scandal number 2022, when several FIFA corporate partners and sponsors spoke out against corruption allegations surrounding the choice of Qatar.

But not the other scandal number 2022, the huge hidden workforce that is living and dyingto deliver by the 2022 deadline, that debases not only Qatar and some of its Gulf neighbours, but the whole world by the very fact that it exists on the face of our planet.

Graphic designers and cartoonists put an abrupt end to that by flooding the internet with powerful memes and images, in the great tradition of their craft, nudging global opinion at a stroke. Sponsors and other big business began to talk about workers’ rights.

But they have chosen their words carefully, in the best tradition of CSR-speak. For good reason, as most of them have their own hidden workforces.

Whether McDonald’s with its arms-length franchise system to squeeze its workers, the giant sports brands with their dependence on a supply chain model that impoverishes, or others who also effectively own workers’ lives but won’t own up to their own global workforce.

In the end, and purely guessing, that subtle pathway might lead to Visa. Corporate giants are not always on the same page, and for most of the sponsors, this month’s FIFA scandal was very worrying but would probably not yet hurt their business model.

Not so for Visa. Their business is money, and even being seen near corruption is a mortal threat. So perhaps that’s where the tap on the shoulder may have come from. “Show yourself the door or we’ll walk through it outside to where the air is clean.”

So maybe, just maybe, a threatened Visa exit precipitated Sepp Blatter’s exit visa. Either that or the US is about to add to the team sheet.

We may never know, but we do know that there remain another 1.5 million exit visas to be issued. 1.5 million migrant workers held in Qatar, many against their will, under the kafala system. And those migrant workers shouldn’t have to wait until 2022.