What Does The Soccer World Think Of 5-Time FIFA President Sepp Blatter? FIFA is embroiled in a massive corruption scandal that has fans, players, and managers wound up. NPR's Linda Wertheimer speaks with retired footballer and former USA national team member Alexi Lalas.
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What Does The Soccer World Think Of 5-Time FIFA President Sepp Blatter?

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What Does The Soccer World Think Of 5-Time FIFA President Sepp Blatter?

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Just days after several soccer executives were arrested on corruption charges, the newly reelected FIFA president defiantly took the stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SEPP BLATTER: I thank you so much. I thank you for the trust and confidence, trust and confidence together we go. Let's go FIFA. Let's go FIFA. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

WERTHEIMER: Sepp Blatter. He's not been charged, and even though more indictments are expected, he says he's not worried. But this cannot be good for the world of soccer. We turn to retired soccer player Alexi Lalas. Lalas played for the U.S. World Cup team in 1994 and 1998. He is now a soccer analyst for Fox. Alexi Lalas joins us from his home in Los Angeles. Thank you very much.

ALEXI LALAS: My pleasure, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you think about the reelection of Sepp Blatter? He's nearly 80 years old, and he seems to be going strong and quite sure he's OK.

LALAS: Well, that he was reelected is not necessarily a surprise. People had been calling that all along, and his ability to gain votes and to keep votes is legendary. That he was reelected given the circumstances over the last week and the fact that he has enabled this type of environment to exist while you said rightly, nothing is directly related to him. Oftentimes, we say the buck stops here. Well, it often stops right underneath Sepp Blatter. And yet, he was still able to amass those votes and to get the people he is very, very good at getting to give him those votes. And I guess, you can detest Sepp Blatter and many do. But if you just look at it from a purely political standpoint, this may have been his finest hour to be able to do what he did.

WERTHEIMER: Allegations of bribery and payoffs are not new. When you were planning for the USA team in the '90, how did players regard the FIFA management?

LALAS: We were jaded to a certain extent. I think everybody recognized it, and it was just simply that's the way's FIFA does business. Now, having gone through this week, I hope that this is a seminal moment. I hope that this can send a message and that we can have change.

WERTHEIMER: Are you hearing from current players about what they think is going on and what they - how they feel it's going to affect them?

LALAS: When this all came out, when the United States publicly said, look, we are going to take the moral high ground and this is going to happen, and even if - even if we risk, you know, the wrath of Sepp Blatter for going against him, it's OK because at some point, you have to stand up. There's a real sense of pride, especially from American players like myself that have been around a long time. I was proud that the United States stood up. I was also proud that the U.S. spearheaded this because this wasn't the, quote-unquote, "big countries" in soccer. This wasn't Germany and England leading the way. This was the United States. I think it says a lot for how far soccer has come when we're the ones leading this charge.

WERTHEIMER: Despite everything that has just happened, Blatter's leadership has had its bright spots. Has this man been good or bad for soccer?

LALAS: Overall, when we look back at Sepp Blatter's reign over FIFA, I think that you can certainly make an argument that it's been good. Whether you're talking about Sepp Blatter or not, the mandate for FIFA is to spread that gospel of this beautiful game that we love. And under Sepp Blatter, FIFA has changed, and it has generated a tremendous amount of money. It's become a very, very big business, and there has been incredible success. And to his credit, under his reign, he has taken it to places to spread that gospel. That is very, very important. But it really comes back to yes he's done good, but think of how much more good could have been done without all of the corruption. The good that has been done, you could multiply that.

WERTHEIMER: Alexi Lalas was a professional soccer player. He is an analyst for Fox now. Thank you very much for doing this.

LALAS: Thank you so much for having me.

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