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Sunday 4 December 2016

Blatter is certainly no stranger to controversy ... but even he couldn’t shake off latest scandal

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks to FIFA President Sepp Blatter
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks to FIFA President Sepp Blatter

SEPP Blatter is no stranger to controversy, but the widening corruption scandal proved too much even for him.

It says something about the 79-year-old Swiss’s reign at the top of world football that even esteemed pundits could barely mention his name without raising an eyebrow.

Despite being an ambassador for world football, at times his comments on everything from women to racism have drawn criticism that he is out of touch with the modern game.

Just like Prince Ali Bin al Hussein, his rival for the presidency in last week’s election, Mr Blatter became a senior figure in the game without having ever played professionally.

Born Joseph Blatter in Visp, Switzerland on March 10 1936, he went on to gain a degree in business administration and economics at Lausanne University before becoming a board member at Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax.

His first role with FIFA came some four decades ago, as technical director.

Two further positions followed before he became FIFA’s eighth president in 1998.

Mr Blatter, who is said to have performed as a wedding singer during his youth, was embroiled in his first major controversy within a year

of taking office, when he took legal action to stop a book that alleged corruption

during his fight for the FIFA presidency.

Then, in 2001, he threatened to sue two German newspapers for alleging he received illegal payments from a bankrupt marketing partner – something which briefly threatened his role as FIFA president.

Mr Blatter appeared to engage with the women’s game –although for the wrong reasons –  when in 2004 he urged female participants to wear skimpier kits in order to increase interest in the fast-growing sport.

Following John Terry’s alleged affair with a team-mate’s girlfriend, he showed similar misogyny: “Listen, this is a special approach in the Anglo-Saxon countries,” he said. “If this had happened in let’s say Latin countries, then I think he (Terry) would have been applauded”.

And his choice of words got him into trouble again, five years later, when he said Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo should be allowed to leave the club for Real Madrid if he so desired, criticising a trend towards “modern slavery’’ in football.

In 2011, FIFA’s ethics committee suspended Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed Bin Hammam and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner – among those also arrested last Wednesday – amid bribery allegations but decided ‘’no investigation was warranted’’ into Mr Blatter.

Despite multiple racist incidents including fans and players, Blatter has stubbonly continued to deny racism exists on the field of play.

However, he has suggested that if such an event were to occur, the best way to deal with it is to make the players “shake hands” at the end of the game.

Not that he couldn’t be above a bit of casual racism himself. While talking about the match-fixing scandal in Italy in 2006 Blatter remarked: “I could understand it if it had happened in Africa, but not in Italy”.

Mr Blatter has also dismissed concerns from gay fans planning to attend the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where it is illegal to be gay, advising them to simply “refrain from any sexual activities”.

The latest scandal to hit FIFA, coming after a year of negative headlines in the British press alleging corruption, saw a handful of senior figures arrested.

Mr Blatter was not one of them, and won re-election for a fifth term just two days later.

But despite his victory, pressure remained on him to stand down and eventually he conceded he did not have “a mandate from the entire world of football” to continue as president.

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