TIME Sports

It’s Not Women’s Soccer—It’s Just Soccer

Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States and Ngozi Okobi #13 of Nigeria during the Group D match of the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 in Vancouver on June 16, 2015.
Rich Lam—Getty Images Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States and Ngozi Okobi #13 of Nigeria during the Group D match of the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 in Vancouver on June 16, 2015.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The World Cup shouldn't be the only time my son roots for female sports stars

He sat on the edge of his seat, tense, cheering and simultaneously yelling at the refs, shifting from side to side with each movement of the ball. No, my 9-year-old wasn’t watching Le Bron and Curry, he was watching Wambach and Morgan.

He’s got World Cup fever.

Every day he asks, “Who won today, who’s playing next, how did the U.S. do and can we watch, pretty please?” As Team USA advances to the elimination rounds, his excitement grows.

We’re big sports fans. My husband has coached Jake in three sports. Pretty much the only television we watch involves sport – basketball, football, tennis, college, pro, national, you name it. So, when Jake took a keen interest in the Women’s World Cup I wasn’t surprised.

What struck me, though, is that he doesn’t qualify it. He isn’t into the “Women’s” World Cup; he’s into the World Cup. He isn’t watching “girls’” soccer; it’s just soccer.

He watches the sport free from labels and judgments. His enthusiasm is fueled by compelling athletes representing their country, leaving it all out on the field.

So, it begs the question: Will Jake eventually come to view women’s sports as second class or are we witnessing a cultural shift? Is his gender egalitarianism a matter of innocence that will be lost, or an enlightenment never attained by most of the adults around him?

As he cheers on Team USA, Jake isn’t privy to some of the discouraging context surrounding the Women’s World Cup. He doesn’t know that this World Cup is being watched by a minuscule global audience compared to last year’s men’s World Cup, or that its games are played on artificial turf while last year’s were played on carefully manicured grass. He doesn’t know that the players in these games struggle to make a living off soccer, while their male counterparts are wealthy beyond their dreams on account of the deep-pocketed leagues in Europe and elsewhere. And, no one has ever told Jake that the women’s game is supposedly “less exciting” than the men’s game.

He sees hard-nosed competition and he likes it.

I know a thing or two about the elusive quest to have women’s sports be taken seriously, having worked for three seasons as a senior vice president with the NBA Phoenix Suns, which is owned by the same group as the WNBA Phoenix Mercury.

We struggled mightily to engage a broader fan base for the Merc despite having a women’s team that was more successful than its male counterpart. The Suns, while close, have never won a championship. In fewer years, the Mercury have won three. For the last three seasons, the Suns have been devoid of a superstar. The Mercury roster boasts two: Dianna Taurasi and Brittney Griner (she dunks!).

And still, attracting a following and widespread public support (as measured by ticket sales, TV ratings, and merchandise sales) remains a challenge for the Mercury and the WNBA broadly. The funny thing is that when people actually give the Mercury a chance, they turn into fans more often than not. The competitive intensity is all there, minus some of the dunking and flash.

While the skills gap between men’s and women’s soccer may be smaller than it is in basketball, soccer has yet to attain the gender parity you see in tennis. This may be due to the fact that many of the world’s leading soccer powers have been slower to embrace the women’s game. Or, it may be due to the fact that the anemic promotion of women’s soccer is more like what happens in basketball than in tennis. And make no mistake, promotion matters.

In a world of constant noise and chatter, it’s the messages we hear most often that stick with us, and you don’t hear much about women’s soccer outside of the World Cup every four years. It’s the noise that drives interest, interest that drives dollars, and dollars that pay for everything else.

What if the likes of Nike, Adidas, Coke, and Gatorade spent as much promoting female athletes as they did men? What if women’s leagues had the same marketing budget as men’s leagues? What if the National Women’s Soccer League got as much airtime in the U.S. as the English Premier League?

Naysayers will say all of that would happen if the interest were there. I say, increase promotion and the interest will follow. It’s the difference between having a market and creating one. Premier League ratings are growing steadily not because of some pre-existing clamor for these games, but because of NBC’s masterful marketing of the league and its storylines.

It’s what the NBA has been doing in China (and beyond) for years. Before David Stern took over the league, there wasn’t a single NBA game televised in China, so he gave it to them for free. Why? In the hopes that if you build it, they will come. Now, the NBA is one of the most popular brands in China and a growth market for the League.

People weren’t clamoring, likewise, for American football in London, but the NFL is banking on the idea that if you schedule enough regular-season games there over time, an expansion NFL team in Europe will soon be viable, expanding the game’s reach.

Creating a market takes risk and a willingness to lose money over the short haul. But, while we’ve seen a willingness to do that in men’s sports, it’s largely missing on the women’s side. Tennis is the one sport that has been able to create something resembling virtual gender parity in terms of fan interest and resources allotted.

This can’t be accomplished by leagues alone–or overnight. Sponsors have to invest in the effort. The NBA has opened up China, so you know what the big brands are doing? Sending the players they endorse over to China to promote their products. Players are interacting directly with Chinese fans via Chinese social media. The NBA, its sponsors, and players are creating noise. Lots of it. American fans and sponsors should make a lot of noise around women’s soccer: we may be late to the world’s game overall, but we were pioneers in treating the game as one suitable for both boys and girls.

Promotion alone is not enough; you must start with a compelling product. No one watches the New York Yankees, L.A. Kings, or the Washington Wizards just because they saw a billboard. Fans want competition; they want entertainment; they want to associate with winners; and they want to root for likeable players representing their community. Women’s sports already deliver on the first three, and with more promotion, we could get to know more of the athletes.

In my day job now, I work with people who want to be better leaders, have greater influence or grow their companies. One thing I tell them is that if they want something to be different, they need to change the way they think about it.

What if we quit thinking about women’s sports as different? Imagine if no one pointed out the girl who tries out for Little League. What if we took our sons to more basketball games, not women’s basketball game? And for crying out loud, quit telling our kids they “throw like girls.”

Maybe for Jake and his generation, “women’s sports” will become just “sports” – to be followed and enjoyed, concurrently with men’s sports.

But the rest of us need to help this aspiration along, with the right cultural and business infrastructure for women’s sports. Last week Marta, a Brazilian player, broke the record for all-time scoring in the Women’s World Cup edging out Germany’s Brigit Prinz. Her nickname, “Pele with skirts” is unfortunate, but shouldn’t detract from the fact that she is widely considered one of the greatest female soccer players of all time.

I went onto Amazon to see if I could buy Jake a Marta jersey, but no dice, unless of course he wants to wear a women’s fitted t-shirt. So, he’ll keep watching with Neymar, Jr., on his back. But if the women’s game remains in his heart, I’ll chalk it up as a win.

Tanya Wheeless, a former Phoenix Suns senior vice president, runs her own executive coaching business and teaches sports marketing at Arizona State University. On Twitter, she is @TanyaWheeless. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Soccer

A Country of 1.2 Billion Just Lost a Soccer Match to a Tiny Island Ranked 174th in the World

India vs Oman
JAGADEESH NV—EPA Indian football player Leihaorungbam Dhanachandra singh (L) and Oman football player Qasim said ( R) in action, during a World Cup Qualifier match against India, in Bangalore, India 11 June 2015.

"We are disappointed," India's coach said

India, a cricket-obsessed nation, is not really known for its soccer prowess. Ranked 141st in the global FIFA rankings, the South Asian nation of 1.2 billion is commonly known as one of the sport’s “sleeping giants.”

The giant stayed asleep on Tuesday, as the Indian team slumped to a 2-1 defeat against the tiny Pacific island of Guam — a U.S. territory ranked 33 spots below it at 174 and with less than 200,000 people — in a World Cup qualifier.

It was Guam’s second consecutive win after beating Turkmenistan 1-0 and it puts them at the top of their qualifying group, CNN reports.

India, on the other hand, were dealt their second consecutive defeat after losing 2-1 to Oman at home last week and face an uphill battle for qualification.

“We are disappointed,” Indian football coach Stephen Constantine said after the match. “Today the difference was very much visible between a group of players who have the best football education and the rest. Seventy-five percent of the players who represented Guam have been born and brought up in the U.S. and that made a huge difference.”


TIME Soccer

Soccer Star Lionel Messi’s Faces Trial Over Tax Fraud

JOSEP LAGO—AFP/Getty Images Barcelona football star Lionel Messi (R), his brother Rodrigo and lawyer Cristobal Martell (L) leave the courhouse in the coastal town of Gava near Barcelona on September 27, 2013 after an audience on tax evasion charges.

A Spanish court has ruled that claiming ignorance about his finances is no defense against charges of evading more than €4m in taxes

Claiming ignorance doesn’t seem to be working for Lionel Messi this time around. After his newest appeal was rejected, it looks like the four-time World Player of the Year and Barcelona star will have to go to court in Spain to face tax evasion charges.

According to the BBC, Messi and his father, Jorge, are accused of withholding earnings between 2007 and 2009 by funneling income through companies in Belize and Uruguay responsible for selling the soccer star’s image rights. The contracts involved companies like Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola and Procter and Gamble. The case against them claims they’ve defrauded the government of over 4m.

His previous appeal, thrown out by a Spanish judge last October, was based on the argument that Messi was not responsible for managing his finances. According to El Pais, Messi’s defense team argued he “never devoted a minute of his life to reading, studying or analyzing” the contracts. Instead, his father was primarily responsible for the player’s books.

A similar appeal was made this time around. But Spanish courts don’t think Messi’s professed ignorance is a good enough reason to drop the charges against him, the BBC reports.

In August 2013, Messi and his father voluntarily made a €5m payment to cover the tax and interest.


TIME Companies

Why the FIFA Scandal Could Mean a Major Cash Boost

Switzerland Soccer FIFA sepp blatter
Ennio Leanza—AP FIFA President Sepp Blatter speaks during a press conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, June 2, 2015.

Reopening bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups could lead to a more U.S.-friendly locale

This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

FIFA’s pain could be Fox and NBCUniversal’s gain. As the FBI expands its criminal probe into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded controversially to Russia and Qatar, respectively, pressure is mounting on soccer’s governing body to reopen the bids. That would be good news for Fox Sports and NBCU-owned Telemundo, which hold U.S. broadcast rights for both tournaments. Fox agreed to pay more than $400 million for English-language rights, with Telemundo shelling out $600 million. Those amounts represented substantial increases from the $100 million and $325 million ESPN and Univision paid, respectively, for the previous FIFA deal.

“There would be loud demands for some renegotiation [of those contracts]” if impro­prieties were found in FIFA’s handling of the bids, says Claudio Aspesi, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. In Europe, some are calling to renegotiate deals or even drop the 2018 and 2022 World Cups from TV if the bidding isn’t reopened in the wake of FIFA president Sepp Blatter stepping down. Chris Bryant, an MP in Britain’s Labor Party, told parliament June 5 that FIFA was a “stinking sink of corruption that has polluted everything it has touched” and that British broadcasters BBC and ITV should not make broadcast payments until it has been reformed and the bids rerun. Sources close to the European Broadcasting Union, which negotiates World Cup rights collectively for public broadcasters across the Continent, say several EBU members are pushing to rene­gotiate deals if vote-rigging is proved.

Even if deal terms stay the same, Fox and Telemundo, both of which declined to comment, could score if the location of the 2022 World Cup moved (it might be too late to change the 2018 event). The U.S. was a frontrunner to host the 2022 tournament before FIFA surprisingly chose Qatar, where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees. If the bidding is reopened and the U.S. wins, Fox and Telemundo would benefit from matches scheduled for the American primetime audience, which would mean higher ratings and ad premiums. In addition, the Qatar tournament was moved to more temperate November and December, which is problematic for Fox and its NFL schedule, and presumably would be moved back to summer in a different location.

FIFA so far has insisted the ’18 and ’22 Cups will go ahead as planned, but Domenico Scala, chair of its audit committee, told a Swiss newspaper June 7: “If evidence should emerge that the awards to Qatar and Russia only came about thanks to bought votes, then the awards could be invalidated.”

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.

More from The Hollywood Reporter:

TIME Soccer

FIFA Puts 2026 World Cup Bidding Process On Hold

Jerome Valcke fifa congress zurich
Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images This May 30, 2015 photo shows FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke during a press conference following the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich.

FIFA had planned to outline a schedule for the bidding process this week

FIFA has placed the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup on hold in the wake of recent corruption allegations.

In a statement released Wednesday, FIFA said that further administrative decisions regarding bidding will be resumed “at a later date.”

FIFA had plans to outline a schedule for the bidding process this week. However, the May 27 indictment of 14 individuals on FIFA-related corruption charges, the June 2 resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, and the ongoing investigation into the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups — controversially awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively — have forced the Zurich-based organization to reevaluate.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who was not named in the May 27 U.S. indictment but has faced suspicion over a $10 million payment made in relation to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, told the BBC that it would be “nonsense” to begin a bidding process under current circumstances. FIFA has denied that Valcke authorized the payment.

Voting to determine the host of the 2026 World Cup is slated to take place May 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

TIME Soccer

See the History of the Women’s World Cup in 8 Extraordinary Moments

The FIFA tournament kicked off on June 6, with Team USA hoping for a record third title. Here are images of golden moments in the tournament's 24-year history

  • 1991: Michelle Akers leads the U.S. to victory in the first ever Women’s World Cup

    Michelle Akers-Stahl us womens world cup 1991
    Tommy Cheng—AFP/Getty Images

    On Nov. 30, 1991 Michelle Akers, center, scored two goals for the U.S. to win the first FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football. She is seen here holding the trophy together with teammates Julie Foudy, left, and Carin Jennings, right.

  • 1999: Brandi Chastain scores goal in penalty shootout to beat China

    Brandi Chastain US china 1999 world cup
    Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

    On July 10, 1999 Brandi Chastain scored the fifth and final goal in a penalty shootout to lead the U.S. to victory over China. Her famous celebration made the moment one of the most iconic in sports history.

  • 2003: Nia Kunzer scores a 98th-minute goal to defeat Sweden in the final

    womens world cup 2003 germany sweden
    Steve Grayson—WireImage/Getty Images

    On Oct. 12, 2003, Nia Kuenzer of Germany scored the winning goal against Kristin Bengtsson of Sweden during overtime in the final. She became the first woman to win the German title “Goal of the Year” for her late-game shot.

  • 2007: Brazil’s Marta scores to defeat the U.S.

    brazil us womens world cup 2007
    Feng Li—Getty Images

    On Sept. 27, 2007 Marta of Brazil scored one of the most memorable game winners in the history of the Women’s World Cup. The goal won Brazil the semi-final match against the U.S.

  • 2007: English forward Kelly Smith kisses her boot after scoring back-to-back goals against Japan

    womens world cup 2007 japan england kelly smith
    Paul Gilham—Getty Images

    It wasn’t just through her skills that England’s Kelly Smith captured the world’s attention. Her famous celebration after scoring against Japan on Sept. 11, 2007 cemented her as a Women’s World Cup celebrity.

  • 2007: Germany beats Brazil in the final

    2007 womens world cup brazil germany
    Guang Niu—Getty Images

    The Sept. 30, 2007 final was truly a contest between an unstoppable force (Brazil had 17 goals the way to the final) and an immovable object (Germany had not given up a single goal). In the end Germany prevailed, holding onto their perfect defensive run, winning the game 2-0 and becoming the first team to win back-to-back Women’s World Cups.

  • 2011: Team USA beats Brazil in the quarterfinal

    brazil us women's world cup soccer
    Alexandra Beier—FIFA/Getty Images

    After 120 minutes of regular time and extra time, the U.S. and Brazil were locked in a 2-2 standoff in the quarterfinals on July 10, 2011. Abby Wambach scored a late-game equalizer to push the game to a penalty shootout where Hope Solo made two diving saves to bring the U.S. to victory.

  • 2011: Japan defeats the U.S. to win the World Cup

    japan us women's world cup final 2011
    Christof Stache—AFP/Getty Images

    Only months after the devastating earthquake off the coast of Japan, the Japanese clenched their first Women’s World Cup victory on July 17, 2011. After a close match that ended tied 2-2, the game was decided in a penalty shootout, 3-1 in favor of Japan.

MONEY Sports

How to Watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup for Free

It's easy to watch most Team USA matches free.

The 2015 Women’s World Cup kicked off in Canada over the weekend, and USA—considered by many as the favorite to win the tournament outright—has its first match on Monday, June 8, versus Australia. It’s become standard for fans to find it costly, complicated, or both to watch major sporting events like the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, the Mayweather-Pacquaio boxing match, and last summer’s Men’s World Cup in Brazil, and the women’s tournament is no exception. We’re here to help sort out the options and point out that much of the Women’s World Cup can be viewed without spending a dime.

FOX Sports has the English-language rights to broadcast the tournament in the U.S. A total of 16 matches will be aired on plain old FOX, including the tournament championship match, the third-place match, and half of the quarterfinals and semifinals. The FOX network is free if you have an HDTV antenna or a pay TV package that includes the big networks. For instance, the Sweden-Nigeria matchup at 4 p.m. ET on Monday, June 8, is being broadcast on FOX, as are Team USA’s matches against Sweden on Friday, June 12, and versus Nigeria on Tuesday, June 16.

However, most other matches, including USA’s June 8 showdown against Australia, are being broadcast on the FOX cable channel FS1, and a few are on FS2, another pay channel. If you’re a subscriber to a traditional pay TV package, all you have to do to watch is tune in to the right channel.

If you clicked on this story, though, let’s assume you’re not a pay TV subscriber, and that you’re looking for some other way to watch—without paying a cable bill, of course. Here are the options:

Download the FOX Sports Go app and you can stream Women’s World Cup action live. The only catch is a rather big one: You must have a pay TV subscription to use the app. Nonsubscribers have the option of paying for a different app, Fox Soccer2Go, which costs $19.99 per month or $100 for a year. The women’s tournament championship is scheduled for Sunday, July 5, so you should only need to pay for one month to catch the entire World Cup. Note that if you don’t cancel, you’ll keep getting charged month after month.

Streaming Pay TV Package
Perhaps the arrival of the Women’s World Cup is all the justification you need to sign up for PlayStation Vue, the cloud-based service from Sony that allows subscribers to stream dozens of pay TV channels without a cable bill, through a game console system. Unlike Sling TV, the Dish Network’s $20 streaming service that includes ESPN and other pay TV channels but doesn’t come with FOX pay channels or any major networks, PlayStation Vue packages have most of the networks (including FOX) and sports pay TV channels like NBC Sports and FOX Sports.

The price of such a package starts at around $50 a month. But if you live in Chicago, New York City, or Philadelphia, you can test out the service with a free seven-day trial. Speaking of which, for the time being, the service is only available in Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia. Here’s the list of channels you’ll get with a package in New York City.

Watch in Spanish
Telemundo, a free over-the-air station in much of the country, is broadcasting 10 World Cup matches in Spanish—including the June 9 Colombia-Mexico match and the June 10 and France vs. Colombia on June 13. Most other matches can be viewed with Spanish commentary via NBC Universo, a pay TV channel, or the NBC Deportes website or app. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that viewers needed to sign in with a pay TV account to stream via NBCDeportes.com. But it looks like this step is unnecessary in some instances. We were able to successfully stream the Sweden-Nigeria match on the site in a web browser (in Spanish) on Monday afternoon without signing in or providing proof of a pay TV subscription.

Listen on Satellite Radio
There will be no traditional radio broadcast of the tournament in the U.S., but Sirius XM subscribers will be able to listen to channel 94 to follow all of USA’s matches with live play-by-play simulcasts of the FOX Sports broadcasts.

TIME World Cup

FIFA Compliance Head Says Russia, Qatar World Cups Could Be Taken Away

New World Cup Emblem Launched In Moscow
Dmitry Lebedev—Kommersant Photo/Getty Images The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia official emblem was unveiled in Moscow on Oct. 28, 2014

ZURICH — Russia and Qatar could be stripped of their World Cup hosting rights if evidence emerges of bribery in the bidding process, the independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee told a Swiss newspaper.

The FBI’s investigation of bribery and corruption at FIFA includes scrutiny of how soccer’s governing body awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar, a U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters this week.

Domenico Scala told SonntagsZeitung that FIFA the two countries could lose the hosting rights should evidence emerge of bribery in the bidding process.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME World Cup

How the FIFA Scandal Trumped the Women’s World Cup

Will the action be a distraction from scandal?

The women’s World Cup starts on Saturday. This might have slipped your mind. With the NBA Finals and the Triple Crown chase and the French Open and baseball all going on, your cluttered sports brain might—quite understandably—be focused on just one soccer story right now: the one involving surprise arrests and millions in bribes and resignations and indictments and the Onion and the Santa Claus-looking guy who made a lot of money manufacturing smiley-face buttons, who kept a hotel room for his cats with illicit soccer money, who chirped, just like the parrot sometimes perched on his shoulder.

The one that will someday make a fine movie, surely more gripping that the $27 million FIFA-financed propaganda film now playing in U.S. theaters, in which disgraced soon-to-be ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter is a hero.

FIFA’s scandal has surely overshadowed the women’s World Cup. At the first FIFA press conference of the tournament, for example, officials had to beg journalists to ask about women’s soccer. And that’s a shame, because this is the biggest women’s sporting event on the globe, a rare chance for some of the world’s best female athletes to shine on their own stage (unlike, say, the Olympics, in which both men and women compete).

Not that Sepp Blatter’s downfall isn’t good for the women’s game. He recently called himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer, even though the best players in the world sued FIFA because this World Cup, in Canada, is the first ever—men’s or women’s—to be played on artificial surface. And even though Blatter once said women’s soccer would be more popular if the players wore tighter outfits, and didn’t recognize one of the world’s best players at a FIFA player of the year ceremony in 2013. At that same event, he confused the girlfriend of American standout Abby Wambach for Marta, the Brazilian star who won FIFA world player of the year honors five times, and looks little like Abby Wambach’s then-girlfriend, now-wife. Women’s soccer grew in popularity during Blatter’s reign. But the sport may have succeeded in spite of him.

While soccer fans around the world are cheering U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for going after FIFA’s alleged crooks, excuse the women’s soccer players at the World Cup if they’re not exactly cheering Lynch and her crew. The timing is unfortunate. Not that the U.S. investigators could wait when justice is at stake, and when the FIFA Congress in Zurich offered the perfect logistical opportunity to arrest a group of fat cats. Plus, once the games begin, maybe fans will turn their attention back to the field. Maybe fans will grow tired of more admissions, indictments, or any other twists this story takes. Maybe they’ll need an on-field distraction more than ever.

Hopefully this is how the World Cup plays out. Still, too bad that FIFA Congress wasn’t in the fall.


Sepp Blatter Brings His FIFA Reign to an End

Why the reviled FIFA leader is stepping down

Sepp Blatter, who proclaimed to the world that he was “president of everybody” after winning a fifth term as head of FIFA on Friday, will soon be nobody’s president.

In a stunning turn, Blatter, who seemed to hold so firm to the stance that he, and he alone, could clean up the corrupt organization that he presided over, announced on Tuesday that he would step down as FIFA’s leader, a position he has held since 1998. An extraordinary FIFA congress will meet to elect a new president: the head of FIFA’s audit committee said the timing of the election is “likely to be between December and March.”

Reality got the best of Blatter. Three days after the U.S. government indicted nine FIFA officials for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, FIFA’s membership somehow granted Blatter another term. Blatter’s largesse, in the form of grants to so many tiny nations around the world, bought enough votes to clinch a victory that would last all of four days. But it couldn’t stop the storm pounding the organization that, in his words, is “dear to me.”

Was it pending legal trouble that helped bring down Blatter? He painted his resignation as a selfless act, an attempt to give FIFA a fresh start. But his troubles could just be starting. A New York Times report said that Blatter’s top lieutenant made a $10 million bank transaction that puts the bribery trail that much closer to Blatter himself. The New York Daily News reported that Aaron Davidson, one of the sports marketing executives arrested in the U.S. probe into FIFA’s business practices, is trying to cut a plea deal. Will he, and other indicted officials, be singing about Blatter? “Let me be clear,” Kelly Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York, said last week. “This indictment is not the final chapter of our investigation.” The president’s defiant words on Friday — “Why would I step down? That would mean I recognize that I did wrong” — may yet come back to haunt him.

But Blatter is nothing if not tenacious. “I am a mountain goat that keeps going and going and going,” he once said. “I cannot be stopped, I just keep going.”

Joseph S. Blatter was born in Visp, a remote Swiss Alpine town, and was sportswriter, PR rep, and reportedly a wedding singer before he rose up the ranks at FIFA, where he has worked since 1975. Since he took over as FIFA president in 1998, corruption has tainted his reign. During his first presidential election, there were allegations that some votes were bought. One month before his 2011 re-election, Blatter pledged $1 million in FIFA money at an assembly for CONCACAF, the regional soccer governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean at the center of the current scandal.

Almost immediately after FIFA decided in December 2010 to award World Cups to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, bribery allegations began surfacing. Last week, the Swiss government announced a criminal investigation specific to the bidding process for these events. The Qatar decision has also sparked a humanitarian crisis. Migrant workers have toiled in triple-digit heat building the stadiums and infrastructure needed for the tiny Gulf nation to host the world’s most popular sporting event. According to a 2014 report from International Trade Union Confederation, 1,200 migrant World Cup workers from India and Nepal have died.

Under Blatter, FIFA has operated with little real transparency. This is an organization that produced a $27 million propaganda film in which Blatter was the hero.

His few supporters will point to his achievements; he did disperse money to many poor countries, where amenities like soccer facilities provided real benefits. The women’s World Cup, and women’s soccer overall, grew in popularity, though Blatter was a clumsy steward. The self-proclaimed “godfather” of women’s soccer once suggested that women wear tighter outfits to attract more fans, and before this year’s women’s World Cup, which kicks off June 6, top players sued FIFA for gender discrimination.

FIFA’s revenues ballooned under Blatter: FIFA currently has $1.5 billion in cash reserves. But how much was the president himself responsible for this business success, given the entrenched popularity of the World Cup, and an environment where media outlets are paying record rights fees across many sports to broadcast big events?

Whoever FIFA elects as its next president will have to grapple with Qatar – can a World Cup conceivably be staged there, given the human toll? — and cleaning up the disgraced organization. Tough times are ahead. But Blatter’s resignation offers hope, for many soccer fans around the globe, that the game’s organizing body can start to reform itself.

“Have a nice day,” a FIFA flack said at the end of the stunning press conference that ended the Blatter era. For soccer fans around the globe, indeed, it was.


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