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Soccer 101: What is FIFA, who is Sepp Blatter, and what's all the fuss about?

It's been all over social media, newspapers and TV for an entire week: the scandal and charges of corruption at FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and the resignation on Tuesday of FIFA's President Sepp Blatter.

If you're new to the beautiful game, you may not be familiar with the many layers of the international soccer structure and the basics of what's going on. That's understandable given how quickly events have unfolded.

Let's start at the top.  

What, exactly, is FIFA?

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, "FIFA" for short, is soccer’s international governing body, based in Zurich, Switzerland. It is responsible for the organization and promotion of the sport’s major tournaments, most notably the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Founded in 1904, FIFA consists of 209 member associations divided into six regional confederations: Africa (CAF), Asia (AFC), Europe (UEFA), North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), Oceania (OFC) and South America (CONMEBOL).

Who is Sepp Blatter?

Born in Visp, Switzerland, in 1936, Joseph S. “Sepp” Blatter (pictured, right) has been a part of FIFA leadership for 40 years, leaving his position as an executive at Swiss watch manufacturer Longines to join FIFA under then-president João Havelange in 1975.

After holding FIFA’s general secretary post for 17 years, Blatter eventually succeeded Havelange as FIFA president in 1998, winning a contentious election against Lennart Johansson, who was then the president of Europe's confederation, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

Blatter has long been a controversial figure in the global soccer scene. Under his watch, the World Cup has grown into a multi-billion dollar event and has been held, for the first time ever, in Asia (2002 in Japan and South Korea) and in Africa (2010 in South Africa). At the same time, he has often angered his constituents with his remarks, such as when, in 2004, he suggested that female players wear “tighter shorts” to attract more male fans.

Reports have also for years linked FIFA, under Blatter's leadership, with corruption, bribery and vote-rigging in conjunction with various internal elections and the awarding of hosts for the World Cup, including the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, in Russia and Qatar, respectively. 

What has happened so far?

Last Wednesday, US and Swiss authorities carried out a raid that saw nine top FIFA officials and five corporate executives indicted on racketeering, conspiracy and corruption charges.

The indictments were announced by US Attorney General Loretta Lynch in Brooklyn (photo, right) shortly after Swiss authorities arrested seven soccer executives at a Zurich hotel.

Amid the charges and investigations, FIFA went ahead with its previously scheduled General Congress last Friday, during which it held its election for the presidency. Despite calls for a postponement of the election, the 209 member associations re-elected Blatter to a fifth term over his lone challenger, Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan.

Blatter's victory, however, did not lessen the rancor surrounding the scandal. While he wasn’t charged in the US corruption case or in the Swiss investigation into the bidding and awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, many called for the 79-year-old Blatter to leave his post following Friday’s election.

On Tuesday of this week, Blatter shockingly announced his plans to step down, after admitting that "although members of FIFA have given me a new mandate and re-elected me president, this mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football." (WATCH BLATTER'S PRESS CONFERENCE HERE.)

What happens now?

Blatter’s tenure as FIFA president will not end immediately and he will remain in the role until the federation can elect a new leader.

FIFA’s next scheduled gathering is for May 2016 in Mexico City, but Blatter indicated on Tuesday that his replacement must be named sooner. Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, said on Tuesday that an election would be held sometime between December 2015 and March 2016, in accordance with the organization’s bylaws.

US authorities, meanwhile, are continuing their investigations and have plans to extradite the FIFA officials and corporate executives arrested in Switzerland last week. Swiss authorities will also move forward with their case, while officials in the United Kingdom are weighing whether or not to pursue a case of their own.

Why is this all such a big deal?

As the international governing body of the world’s most popular sport, FIFA wields tremendous power around the globe. Their decisions on the host countries for the various tournaments have enormous economic, social and political ramifications.

Given current allegations, the bidding and voting for recent World Cup tournament hosts could come under further scrutiny, including whether top FIFA officials used their posts for illicit financial gain.

The results of the various investigations, the change of leadership that will come with Blatter’s resignation and the widespread calls for structural reform at FIFA are expected to forever change how the sport is governed and impact the future of the game around the world.