By RONALD BLUM
NEW YORK (AP) — What would happen if Sepp Blatter hosts a World Cup and most of Europe, several South American powers and the United States don’t show up?
Blatter was voted to a fifth term as FIFA president on Friday, but the governing bodies of soccer’s wealthiest region, the world’s biggest economy and several nations in soccer-crazed South America opposed him following a string of scandals.
As the 79-year-old was celebrating defeating Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein 133-73 for another four-year term, his opposition was figuring out how to pressure him for change.
The Union of European Football Associations could threaten what’s become known as soccer’s nuclear option: prominent nations breaking away and holding their own tournament, call it a Clean Cup. At FIFA’s World Cup qualifying draw on July 25 in St. Petersburg, Russia, there could be scores of empty seats in the Constantine Palace.
“Blatter’s supporters are Vladimir Putin, the invader; the Qatari government and their supposed slave employees to build the facilities; and about 80 or 90 tiny countries that he has given each one a vote and a ton of money to,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp.
“He needs to be careful not to overplay his hand,” Ganis said. “He was given an opportunity to do what he said, which is reform FIFA. If he uses that opportunity to extract retribution against those who are opposed to him, he’s setting up a confrontation that if it goes all the way to the end, he can’t win. He’s never demonstrated that level of ignorance, so I don’t expect that he will do so.”
With a one-nation, one-vote system, Blatter has support of a majority of FIFA’s 209 nations. But most of the world’s best clubs, the strongest economies and the most lucrative television audiences are in countries that want Blatter out
FIFA’s $5.72 billion in revenue from 2011-14 included $4.83 billion from last year’s World Cup in Brazil — of which $2.43 billion was generated by television rights sales, $1.58 billion from marketing agreements and $527 million in tickets.
The majority of FIFA’s money came from deals in Europe and the United States, where governments — other than Russia — are pressing for reform.
Visa has threatened to “reassess our sponsorship” if changes are not made. The Coca-Cola Co. expressed concern, saying the controversy “tarnished the mission and ideals” of the World Cup.
“They do have tremendous leverage, but it remains to be seen whether they have legal grounds to abrogate their deals,” said former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, who runs a media consulting firm.
UEFA President Michel Platini, the former French national team star, did not applaud Blatter after the election. He said before the vote UEFA would be “open to all options” if Blatter gained re-election, and UEFA will meet in Berlin ahead of the Champions League final on June 6.
Europe supplies 13 of the 32 teams for the World Cup (plus Russia as the host in 2018), and UEFA holds eight of the 25 voting seats on FIFA’s executive committee. Blatter said after his victory that FIFA “must have a better representation of the confederations and the number of members” on the executive committee. “We need more respect for the Oceanian confederation,” he added.
“The Solomon Islands are going to have a spot? But Germany, nah, not so much?” Ganis said. “Sepp Blatter can get 140 votes from the Trinidad and Tobagos of the world, these island nations whose FIFA representative is one of the wealthiest persons on the island in part because he’s the FIFA representative. And he’ll be able to hold onto power as long as he wants in part because of the voting process.”
FIFA could be headed toward an internal fight, much as college sports in the United States went through last year when the NCAA — the body that oversees competition — agreed to give its five biggest conferences greater autonomy.
“FIFA World Cup” is trademarked, but if UEFA boycotts the tournament or breaks away from FIFA, and it is backed by the United States and South America’s top powers, the World Cup would be about as interesting as the African Cup of Nations or the Asian Cup.
Blatter downplayed the possibility.
“They need FIFA, and FIFA needs UEFA,” he said Saturday.
But would television networks and sponsors pay all that money for an audience to watch 97th-ranked Malawi play No. 99 Qatar?
What if UEFA told European clubs — which have the best players from around the world — to ignore FIFA’s regulations and refuse to release players to national teams for World Cup qualifiers?
“This isn’t over by any means,” England Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said.