On June 2, 2015, Sepp Blatter, president of international soccer’s governing body FIFA, steps down, just a few days after he had been re-elected to a fifth four-year term. His resignation came amid rumors that he would soon be under investigation by the United States and Sweden on charges of fraud and corruption. All over the world, soccer fans rejoiced, as Blatter’s 17-year term had been marred with allegations of misdeeds, seemingly from the very beginning.
What unfolded became one of the biggest scandals in modern sports history.
At the time of his resignation Blatter was not officially charged with any crimes, but the writing may have been on the wall for the then-79-year-old. The week before, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch had announced an investigation into FIFA that, according to The Los Angeles Times, had “uncovered decades of bribery totaling more than $150 million.” In all, 14 people, nine of whom were current or former FIFA executives, were indicted on federal racketeering charges. Seven were arrested near FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
The charges alleged widespread corruption over a 24-year period, including wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Officials were also accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks, and even of buying and selling their votes for countries like Russia, Qatar and South Africa to host the prestigious World Cup tournament.
In another plot twist, Blatter announced four days later that he would, in fact, continue as president—but only until a new election could be conducted in 2016. Over the next few weeks, it became unclear if the embattled executive would step down at all, leading to some awkward press statements from FIFA, which assured the world that Blatter would, indeed, be “laying down his mandate” and stepping aside.
Blatter’s claims of innocence soon took an even bigger hit. In September of the same year, the Swedish government accused him of signing a contract with former Caribbean football chief Jack Warner—thought to revolve around TV rights—that was “unfavourable to FIFA,” thus violating his fiduciary duties to the organization. He was also accused of making a “disloyal payment” using 2 million Swiss francs in FIFA funds to Michel Platini, then the president of the European Football Association and Blatter’s heir apparent at FIFA.
Though Blatter was cleared of corruption charges, the Swedish investigation inspired the FIFA ethics committee to conduct its own. That December, Blatter was suspended from FIFA for eight years for that payment to Platini. His appeal was rejected in 2016, but his sentence was reduced to a six-year ban. In June 2017, FIFA revealed after a more thorough investigation that Blatter and two other high-ranking members of the organization had stolen $80 million in “a coordinated effort to enrich themselves through annual salary increases, World Cup bonuses and other incentives” over a five-year period.
In February 2016, Gianni Infantino, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, was elected to replace Blatter as FIFA president. With the new administration came reforms that put limits on presidential terms, and a replacement of the executive committee with a 36-member council.