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.
His election as FIFA’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.
Seventeen years later he presides over a glitzy multi-billion dollar global industry.
But in the words of the French paper l’Equipe, “FIFA’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”.
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 FIFA officials.
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.
Crucially, across Planet Football he had gradually become untouchable.
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.
His commitment to reform has been questioned: in 2011 FIFA ignored recommendations from a panel whose work it had commissioned – over cash disclosure, and for fixed terms and age limits for officials.
Since the award in December 2010 of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, five of the 22 members of FIFA’s executive committee have either resigned or been dismissed, and two others are the subject of an inquiry by its ethics committee.
L’Equipe has now likened FIFA’s top brass to “Conan the Barbarian played out in three-piece suits by a bunch of pensioners cavorting in five-star palaces”.
Blatter once said he still felt “full of energy” and had work to finish at FIFA’s helm.
However buffeted football’s ship may have been by the corruption storm, the French newspaper has described Blatter himself as “unsinkable”.