FIFA central to soccer's success despite scandals

Wed May 20, 2015 2:32pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - One of FIFA president Sepp Blatter's favorite lines is that his organization boasts more members than the United Nations.

The comparison may be slightly open to question as some of FIFA's 209 members are not fully independent nations and therefore not eligible to join the UN.

But it is still a good example of the overwhelming influence of the world's most popular sport.

No other sport has quite the same ability to bring entire countries to a standstill, many declaring public holidays when their national teams are involved in World Cup matches.

Blatter, overwhelming favorite to be re-elected for a fifth term at the age of 79 at FIFA's annual Congress on May 29, frequently points out that football can even transcend conflict and diplomatic standoffs.

A memorable example was when the United States met Iran in a politically charged match at the 1998 World Cup and the players exchanged flowers before kick off.

"We did more in 90 minutes than the politicians did in 20 years," said U.S. defender Jeff Agoos at the time.

Iraq overcame the conflict at home to win the Asian championship in fairytale fashion in 2007 and, back in 1967, a 48-hour truce was called in the Biafra war in Nigeria so that both sides could see Pele play in exhibition matches.

One of the reasons soccer is so successful is that it is a truly worldwide sport, with FIFA as its one single world governing body.   Continued...

Journalists are reflected in the FIFA logo in Zurich March 20, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann