Tuesday 25 October 2016

End of most toxic figure in sport may now be in sight ...it can't come soon enough


One thing we can be sure of: when nature finally takes its toll, whatever it is that Sepp Blatter dies from, it will not be shame.

As the organisation he had led for the past 20 years was plunged into turmoil by the dawn arrests of half-a-dozen senior officials on Wednesday, it was made clear that Blatter would not resign from the presidency of FIFA. He would not take executive responsibility and fall on his sword.

In fact, not only would he not surrender, he would continue to seek a further term in office in the presidential elections to be held today.

After all, his spokesman made plain, who better to marshal the sweep-through of FIFA's Augean stables than Joseph Blatter? Which might strike some as rather odd, given he is the very person who has presided over two decades of the steady accumulation of filth.

It was in 1975 that a young Swiss sports journalist turned marketing man first took a position at FIFA. Once ensconced, Blatter worked his way up through the body, helping to organise World Cups, learning along the way how to sell football.

In June 1998, to the surprise of many who expected Lennart Johansson, the veteran former head of UEFA, to be nodded into the post, Blatter was voted in to succeed Joao Havelange as FIFA's president.


Over the next 20 years, Blatter shamelessly adopted the politics of Tammany Hall as he relentlessly sought re-election. Like the Democrats in 19th Century New York, he exchanged patronage for support at the ballot box. Realising that the old footballing world was rather too full of potential rivals, he ignored Italy, France and England and concentrated his benevolence on the smallest of territories.

Since each constituent member has a single vote regardless of its size or footballing history, his logic was impeccable: never mind that it has a population some 38,000 times more substantial, Brazil is no more powerful when it comes to the FIFA voting process than Montserrat.

To ensure there was plenty of cash to hand out, Blatter invigorated FIFA's commercial activity. In the last four years, the body's income, accrued from everything from broadcast rights to association with the world's favourite computer football game, topped £3.7 bn (€5.2bn). It has more than £1 bn (€1.4bn) in cash reserves.

FIFA paid more than £100m (€140m) a year in personal expenses alone to its executives (Blatter's actual salary remains a closely guarded secret), much of it distributed to those who had plenty for which to thank the president.

A recent report on Bloomberg.com revealed that the former FIFA official Jack Warner's family firm owns a sports complex in Trinidad, largely built with €28m of FIFA money.


Worse, when FIFA sent sizeable financial aid to help the Haitian Football Association rebuild its infrastructure after the hurricane, Warner channelled most of it into his pocket.

And so it is that this week, despite the squall of scandal swirling round him, Blatter is seeking further mandate to continue in office. Though mandate may suggest a more democratic process than will be in evidence in Zurich today.

More mutually assured protectionism than a genuinely contested selection process, this vote is actually an exchange of favours, in which Blatter has long turned a blind eye to the nefarious dealings of officials in return for their X in his box.

At no other organisation in the free world would he have maintained sway for so long given the reputational damage wrought by his presence.

How long this can last now that the FBI and the Swiss law have cast their eyes on it, however, is moot. Characteristically, FIFA tried to suggest it was the victim in all this, that Blatter presides over a selfless body let down by a few bad apples.

And naturally Mr President would not be resigning. Football needs him now more than ever.

But the arrival of the FBI on his doorstep has meant his room for manoeuvre has suddenly been reduced. The end of the most toxic figure in world sport may now be in sight.

It cannot come soon enough.

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