Sepp Blatter is like the Robert Mugabe of football. Nothing short of death will stop him from relinquishing his grip on power.
Like any half-decent despot, Blatter won’t let a little corruption scandal bring him down. No, while everything crumbles around him as high-ranking officials are finally brought to book, Blatter dusts off his well-pressed jacket and is “relaxed” about the situation.
This is what Fifa spokesperson Walter de Gregorio had to say when the news broke that seven Fifa officials were arrested on corruption charges: “The president is not involved, so how can you say he has to step down? He was not involved.”
So according to Fifa, the man who has been at the helm for the past 18 years should not take any flak for yet another scandal. Whether or not Blatter is charged with corruption, the fact that this happened under his watch should be enough for Fifa to realise it’s time for Blatter to go.
But then again, the sport’s governing body is not known for acting in football’s best interests.
As far back as 2002, a dark cloud hung over Blatter as 11 Fifa executive committee members accused him of abusing power and financial mismanagement, Reuters reported. Yet Blatter went on to win the election by 139-56 votes against current CAF president Issa Hayatou.
In 2007, Blatter didn’t even face a challenger as he secured his third term.
Interestingly, in the 2011 election Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari who challenged Blatter, was accused of offering bribes for votes. He pulled out of the race and was later banned from football. While Bin Hammam and former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner faced an internal investigation, Fifa said “no investigation against Blatter is warranted”.
The shadow over Blatter would grow in 2012 when the Council of Europe’s report said it was “difficult to imagine” that Blatter was unaware of bribery by International Sport and Lesiure (ISL), a Swiss sports marketing company that partnered with Fifa.
ISL went under in 2001, owing millions of pounds. In a nutshell, the company paid bribes to Fifa officials in return for TV deals. According to the BBC, former Fifa president Joao Havelange and former head of the Brazilian football federation Ricardo Teixeira stepped down after court documents showed they had received bribes from ISL.
The Council of Europe’s report on the scandal sums up Blatter’s precarious position: “Mr Blatter was technical director of Fifa from 1975 to 1981, Fifa general secretary from 1981 to 1998 and has been its president ever since. Since Fifa was aware of significant sums paid to some of its officials, it is difficult to imagine that Mr Blatter would not have known about this.”
Blatter was left with a little smudge on his face, one Fifa was once again happy to wipe away.
Does anybody expect this time to be any different?
Either Blatter is one of the world’s most ignorant leaders or he knew exactly what was happening all along. Either way, it’s time for Blatter to go if Fifa is to start afresh and build confidence in a brand that has taken a pounding for years following dodgy decision after dodgy decision.
Don’t hold your breath though. Fifa’s spokesperson said Blatter was “relaxed” but not “dancing in his office” after the latest corruption scandal. But expect him to be dancing when he is voted in for a fifth term at Fifa’s congress tomorrow.