Blatter the unsinkable amid FIFA's corruption storm

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By Alasdair Sandford
Blatter the unsinkable amid FIFA's corruption storm

<p>The small Swiss town of Visp where Joseph Blatter grew up is surrounded by mountains – yet the young Sepp’s destiny was to be far from Alpine peaks, at the summit of the world’s dominant sport.</p> <p>His election as <span class="caps">FIFA</span>’s president in 1998 followed decades of climbing the sports management ladder – first in ice hockey, and then within football’s governing body itself, beginning as its technical director.</p> <p>Seventeen years later he presides over a glitzy multi-billion dollar global industry.</p> <p>But in the words of the French paper l’Equipe, “<span class="caps">FIFA</span>’s sewers are overflowing so much that to hold your nose is no longer enough to mask the noxious stench let off by the machine which governs world football”.</p> <p>In recent years investigations by several of the world’s leading publications such as The Sunday Times have presented detailed allegations of corruption – especially of money changing hands in return for favours from highly influential <span class="caps">FIFA</span> officials.</p> <p>A Swiss paper called the man at the top “the dark prince of football, the godfather, Don Blatterone” – but no inquiry has ever linked him personally to bribes.</p> <p>Crucially, across Planet Football he had gradually become untouchable.</p> <p>By carefully cultivating contacts and nurturing development in places far from his Swiss roots, Blatter saw his powerbase grow – in Asia, South America, and above all in Africa, which was delirious as he delivered the continent’s first World Cup in South Africa in 2010.</p> <p>His commitment to reform has been questioned: in 2011 <span class="caps">FIFA</span> ignored recommendations from a panel whose work it had commissioned – over cash disclosure, and for fixed terms and age limits for officials.</p> <p>Since the award in December 2010 of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, five of the 22 members of <span class="caps">FIFA</span>’s executive committee have either resigned or been dismissed, and two others are the subject of an inquiry by its ethics committee.</p> <p>L’Equipe has now likened <span class="caps">FIFA</span>’s top brass to “Conan the Barbarian played out in three-piece suits by a bunch of pensioners cavorting in five-star palaces”.</p> <p>Blatter once said he still felt “full of energy” and had work to finish at <span class="caps">FIFA</span>’s helm.</p> <p>However buffeted football’s ship may have been by the corruption storm, the French newspaper has described Blatter himself as “unsinkable”.</p>