Andrew Warshaw: Innocent until proven guilty? Does anyone care?

Let’s distinguish between the highly unlikely and the reality; let’s separate the hyberbole from the facts. Sepp Blatter made the right decision to announce he would be stepping down no matter how upset his legions of supporters in Africa and elsewhere might be. Root and branch reform is now needed at FIFA more than ever to eradicate the stench of rampant corruption.

But let’s not get too carried away. While some of the criticism levelled at Blatter that has dominated the footballing and political landscape in the west is justified, given the jaw-dropping scale of what has been going on under his 17-year watch, some of the stuff that has come out of the woodwork has been conveniently timed to the point of highly disingenuous.

Take the Irish Thierry Henry compensation story elsewhere on this website and reported worldwide. It’s a decent tale in its own right, of course, and there are certainly question marks over FIFA’s role at the time in allegedly trying to sweep the issue under the carpet.

But why are the Irish making such a fuss about this now? How come no-one knew about it before? Irish football chief executive John Delaney has been among the countries screaming foul at Blatter for bringing shame on the FIFA family. Yet just a few days after the Irish suffered that terrible injustice at the “hand” of Henry, the same John Delaney willingly accepted what at least one broadcaster described today as “hush money”. The amount was €5 million, apparently roughly between 10 and 15 percent of the IFA’s annual income. Double standards? Cheap political point scoring?

Then there is the ludicrous suggestion that England might step in to host the 2022 World Cup if requested to by FIFA, another of the less sensible pieces of rhetoric in the aftermath of Blatter’s fall from grace.

Number one, FIFA would never make that request as long as Russia hosts 2018. Anyone who knows anything about World Cup rotation must be aware that strict rules forbid a country from the same continent hosting the subsequent World Cup. England’s FA and politicians might point to a case of Force Majeure but the reality is that 2022 would be far, far more likely to go to the United States or Australia, who both bid for the tournament, rather than England. That is, if Qatar becomes embroiled in the ongoing scandal and evidence is ultimately produced proving corruption – and presumably corruption at a level to have distorted the integrity of the vote and the eventual winner. Then, I guess, there would be no alternative but to strip them of host status even though that would result in a legal minefield since both 2018 and 2022 were voted on at the same time. As things stand now, that ain’t going to happen regardless of English FA chairman Greg Dyke’s ranting.

Finally, there is the question of whether Blatter should step down now and just disappear rather than stay on until the forthcoming extraordinary election whenever that is. No he shouldn’t. And here’s why. The man has not – yet – been accused of any wrongdoing in either the US or the Swiss probe. He may have been premature in his assertion last week that to step down would be interpreted as an admission of wrongdoing but until the noose actually tightens around his neck to strangling point, he has a right to stay under the statutes. After all, no-one is going to clean up FIFA overnight.

I can understand those who believe he should go now but in a way, his move represents a decent compromise: saving face whilst at the same time attempting to bring about concrete, lasting reform under the auspices of his ever-important audit and compliance chief Dominico Scala – then leaving it to his successor to tweak accordingly.

Understandably, UEFA and others might not be comfortable with this scenario. Integrity checks and giving less power to the confederations are not on UEFA’s agenda (they actually blocked their introduction…). But the world can’t have it both ways.

Let Blatter use his last few months to do what he perhaps should have done ages ago. When he eventually departs, he will not enjoy the positive legacy he was so desperate to leave. Not in Europe and the United States anyway. He’s always going to be remembered in some parts of the world (if not in others) as the president who led an organisation rife with bribery and corruption. But is giving him the chance to at least try to make amends and put a few building blocks in place for his successor such a crime?

Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1634561232labto1634561232ofdlr1634561232owdis1634561232ni@wa1634561232hsraw1634561232.werd1634561232na1634561232