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Rediff News  All News  » Sports » Blatter's ship finally runs aground

Blatter's ship finally runs aground

October 09, 2015 08:33 IST

- History is not likely to be so kind to the 79-year-old Swiss, who only recently compared himself to a mountain goat that keeps "going and going and going and cannot be stopped." Instead, his name is likely to be associated with the succession of corruption scandals which occurred on his watch.

Sepp Blatter

IMAGE: Sepp Blatter. Photograph: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

Sepp Blatter wanted to be remembered as the FIFA president who turned soccer into a truly global sport, and a catalyst for development, peace and social change.

He was immensely proud of taking the World Cup to Africa for the first time, when South Africa hosted the flagship tournament in 2010, and proudly told how football continued to be played even in the world's most brutal conflict zones.

But history is not likely to be so kind to the 79-year-old Swiss, who only recently compared himself to a mountain goat that keeps "going and going and going and cannot be stopped."

Instead, his name is likely to be associated with the succession of corruption scandals which occurred on his watch.

Although he strenuously denied his own involvement, those scandals finally caught up with him on Thursday when Blatter was suspended for 90 days by FIFA's ethics committee, effectively signalling the end of his 40 years at the world governing body.

Blatter, whose first role with FIFA was as a development officer in Ethiopia in 1975, often came across as an amiable character with eccentric ideas.

He once proposed enlarging the goals as a response to defensive football, and caused controversy by suggesting the women's game would attract bigger audiences if the players wore tighter shorts.

One of his first global television appearances was during the farcical draw for the 1982 World Cup, modelled on the Spanish lottery of the time with each team represented by a miniature football inside a spinning cage.

FIFA officials, including Blatter, appeared to forget the procedure and, amid complete confusion, balls broke and cages jammed.

Unscathed, Blatter went on to serve as FIFA secretary general until 1998, when he was voted in as president. Over the years, he showed a ruthless instinct for survival and extraordinary political nous.


IMAGE: The FIFA headquarters in Zurich. Photograph: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

In 2001, FIFA faced potential financial ruin after the collapse of its marketing partner ISL/ISMM, and Blatter was subjected to intense pressure to reveal details of the organisation's finances.

He recovered from that setback, and today his federation boasts reserves of more than $1.5 billion. He faced further troubles in 2002 when FIFA's then secretary general Michel Zen-Ruffinen claimed Blatter's 1998 election victory was based on bribery and corruption. Blatter overcame the scandal, beat Issa Hayatou of Cameroon by 139 votes to 56 in that year's election, and Zen-Ruffinen was soon out of a job.

In 2011, he was re-elected unopposed after his only rival, Mohamed Bin Hammam, was investigated in a cash-for-votes scandal and forced to withdraw. The Qatari, once a Blatter ally, was subsequently banned for life.

But the scandals kept on coming.

Jack Warner, once a FIFA powerbroker and a long-serving executive committee member who boasted that he helped get Blatter elected, resigned in 2011 shortly after he was placed under investigation. Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, another executive committee member, quit the following year in the wake of a string of scandals back home.

Blatter always denied any knowledge of his colleagues’ troubles and trotted out a set of standard ripostes.

He spoke of “little devils” that infested the sport, and constantly reminded his critics that 300 million people were directly involved in football.

“I can’t control everyone,” he would say.

He was fond of nautical metaphors, frequently saying he would lead the FIFA ship out of troubled waters and take it to a safe harbour.

Even after the United States indicted 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives on corruption charges in May, Blatter ploughed on. Ignoring calls for a FIFA Congress to be abandoned, the 79-year-old was re-elected just two days later for a fifth term.

Once again, he showed his mastery of the FIFA electoral system in which the 209 member associations each hold one vote, meaning tiny Montserrat is equal with football powers like Brazil or Germany.

But this one would not go away. Four days after being re-elected, Blatter succumbed to an international outcry and announced he would call an extraordinary Congress to lay down his mandate.

It bought him extra months in the job, as that meeting is not due to take place until February 26. Blatter appeared to believe this would enable him to try to push through some of the reforms which had previously been blocked by Congress.

But even those hopes were extinguished when a team from the Swiss attorney-general’s office turned up at FIFA headquarters on September 25. After searching Blatter's office and seizing data, they announced they were starting a criminal investigation against him for criminal mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. Even then Blatter, who in July said he was sure he would “go to heaven one day” vowed to fight on.

"This is just an investigation, not an indictment," he told German magazine Bunte. "I will fight until February 26. For myself. For FIFA. I am convinced that evil will come to light and good will prevail."

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