Tuesday 23 July 2019

Roy Curtis: The suspicion must be that Sepp Blatter's blood ran cold this morning

FIFA President Sepp Blatter
FIFA President Sepp Blatter
FIFA President Sepp Blatter
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter releases a dove during his visit to Dura al-Qar' village in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Jack Warner
FIFA president Sepp Blatter
FIFA President Sepp Blatter
Walter De Gregorio, FIFA Director of Communications and Public Affairs gestures during a news conference at FIFA headquarters in Zurich
Journalists gather for a press conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich
A police vehicle is parked outside of the five-star hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich

Roy Curtis

FOR so long Fifa has not so much resembled an independent state as a shady, smug, wealth-bloated parallel universe; a land of milk and honey for a self-satisfied tribe of untouchables, presided over with absolute authority by a ruthless cat-stroking villain.

From his palace on the hill, Sepp Blatter seemed to chuckle each time another allegation of corruption plonked itself atop the Himalayan hump of scandal, his jaw-line welded into a permanent expression of pompous disdain; hubris made flesh.

Here was the default setting of an organisation which, palpably, regarded itself as operating outside the reach of even its most powerful critics. 

And which was led by a man who simply could not conceal his amusement at the impotency with which his foes railed and thrashed, the pea-shooter futility with which their accusations bounced off the gilded walls of his sprawling Swiss command post. 

Fifa seemed for all the world like a five-star, chauffeur-driven, Armani-clad version of one of those ungovernable tribal borderlands along the Afghan/Pakistani border. 

So this morning’s hugely dramatic dawn arrests of seven senior Fifa officials – effectively an FBI swoop on Blatter’s cabinet, among them two of his vice-presidents,  one of them a potential successor to football’s eternal Mister Big – initially seemed like a fanciful sample chapter from some newly penned work of fiction.

But a penny for Blatter’s thoughts.

As he learned of the arrests, as it became apparent that this was part of a concerted, US-led criminal investigation into 25 years of alleged Fifa corruption. That a concurrent probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar had seen the Swiss Federal Office of Justice haul in for questioning 10 of those involved into those enormously controversial votes.

Blatter was not arrested this morning, he has even revealed his support for the investigation but suspicion must be that the 79-year-old’s blood ran cold.

The language employed by the authorities would be familiar to Michael Corleone:  “Racketeering” “money laundering running into hundreds of millions of dollars”, “wire fraud”.

With each new revelation, the sense of the gangbusters moving inexorably in grows.

It is true that Blatter was not among those arrested, that there are no charges pending against him. 

True also that so many times in the past – as at Seoul in 2002 when he not only survived allegations of outrageous profiteering and claims by his whistle blowing secretary general, but emerged ever more powerful – Blatter’s position has appeared untenable.  Yet his reign, historically, has just kept rolling along.

But the timing of this swoop could not be more significant.  The delegates had gathered for Blatter’s coronation, to extend his 17-year reign, to bow and scrape once more before the emperor, to reaffirm that all is well in the cloistered kingdom.

But today's spectacularly detonated time-bomb irreversibly alters the landscape.

It adds hugely to the cesspit stink that has followed Fifa for so many years, the acrid odour of corruption that never seemed so poisonous as when the 2022 World Cup was awarded to a sizzling, desert furnace.

All of this has unfolded while Blatter was sitting ermine-clad upon his throne, an imperious, unbending, all-powerful monarch.

Morally he must be accountable for what unspools on his watch.

And so grows the consensus that we are arriving at the end of days, that seismic change may be forced on the "football family", that the bedrock of his authority folded in on itself in the early hours of this summer Swiss morning, that this time the milk and honey has not merely soured.

Rather is has been laced with the kind of killing hemlock dosage that even Blatter might struggle to withstand.  

Online Editors

The Throw-In: D-Day looms in Castlebar, Jim Gavin’s plan for Diarmuid Connolly and the future of the Super 8s

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport