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Money and power the name of the game for slippery Blatter

An activist (L) wears a giant mask depicting FIFA President Joseph Blatter inside a cage during a protest by the organisation prior to the 65th FIFA Congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland yesterday.
An activist (L) wears a giant mask depicting FIFA President Joseph Blatter inside a cage during a protest by the organisation prior to the 65th FIFA Congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland yesterday.

Jim White in London

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 arrest of six senior officials on Wednesday, it was made clear that Blatter would not resign from the presidency of Fifa.

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 on Friday. 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 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. He bullishly extended what he came to term "the Fifa family", to the point where Fifa has 16 more members than the UN. And he showered the minor members with largesse. A couple of million donated to a Pacific island has considerable heft when it comes to the four-yearly voting congress.

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 €5.17 bn. It has more than €1 .39bn in cash reserves, not bad for a non‑profit making organisation. And after paying out more than €140m a year in personal expenses alone to its executives (Blatter's actual salary remains a closely guarded secret) much of that was distributed to those who had plenty for which to thank the president.

As he went about his work divvying up the cash, Blatter became convinced that he and his body were a force for world betterment. Through the World Cup he insisted that his organisation could kick-start economic development. Surrounding himself with sycophants, feted with the trappings of a head of state, insisting at all times he be addressed as Mr President, he saw himself not as a sporting bureaucrat but a world statesman. His reward, he came to believe, would be a Nobel Prize.

A more tangible corollary of his way of doing things, however, was that with so much money sloshing around, corruption became endemic. Never mind the alleged use of backhanders to decide the location for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, enrichment opportunities were seized at every turn. A report on recently 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. He is not alone. Last November the head of Nepal's football association stepped down amid allegations that he stole £4m in Fifa funds.

But Blatter was not to be deflected by such sordid details. For years reporters have filed stories revealing a culture of brown envelopes. And for years Fifa has side-stepped any acknowledgement of wrongdoing, covering its back, accusing its exposers of everything from cynicism to racism. Blatter has remained aloof, above it all, slippier than an eel swimming through a bucket of KY jelly. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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