Blatter keeps his grip with help from his loyalists, writes Andrew Warshaw
Attending Sepp Blatter’s post-election press conference yesterday, it was as if time had stood still. Same balding, ageing figure fielding questions from the media with his general secretary on one side and his communications chief on the other.
Only this time it was virtual grilling.
Why had he not resigned? Why was he still the right man for the job? How could he justify staying in power amid such an avalanche of corruption claims?
Under normal circumstances, the questioning would have been considerably softer even with all the discontent about the 79-year-old Swiss who has simply become the great survivor. But as we know, the circumstances were anything but.
Never, in fact, in the recent history of FIFA had we encountered anything like it. A week that began with a few routine committee meetings that produced virtually nothing in terms of news value suddenly turned into a daily round of sensational stories of such jaw-dropping magnitude that one senior federation president described it to me as “FIFA’s 9/11”.
And at the end of it there was Blatter. Still standing, digging in his heels, up for the fight, determined not to be brow-beaten by the western media. And there he’ll almost certainly stay barring some kind of force majeure until the age of 83 in 2019.
Quite how Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Blatter’s vanquished opponent, felt when he awoke yesterday morning with the realisation that he is no longer part of FIFA is not hard to imagine. The young Jordanian kept his counsel media-wise. Pretty soon, when the dust settles, he’ll emerge from his dejected state of mind to provide an insight into what it was like in those final few hours trying to gauge how much support he would receive. Seventy-three votes was more than many had predicted. But it was also less than the man himself had expected. At least that was what we were led to believe.
The sight close to midnight on Friday of UEFA president Michel Platini, tie flapping, puffing out breath as he climbed into the lift at the Baur au Lac hotel where all the shenanigans had started a few days previously said everything about the mood of UEFA who wanted to hit Blatter in the proverbials as hard as they could.
“After the events of the past week there was a headwind that was felt but at the end it was not strong enough to bring about the change we wanted,” said German FA president and new FIFA executive committee member Wolfgang Niersbach. “Within UEFA there was the impression that Prince Ali had a chance. I do not think Blatter will change much. When you are 79 , you have developed a style. My biggest concern is that it may not be possible for things to be peaceful. We need a strong FIFA but that is very difficult.”
The next move, as far as UEFA is concerned, is Saturday’s emergency session in Berlin on the sidelines of the Champions League final when some kind of concerted action is being planned. A World Cup boycott? No. Pulling out of FIFA? Unlikely. So what then? All options are apparently open but trying to discover what they are is akin to seeking a needle in the proverbial haystack.
Then there is the issue of David Gill. This time the word boycott does apply. The former Manchester United chief executive stuck to his word and stayed away from what would have been his first executive committee meeting yesterday. He refuses to work under Blatter. Should he have stayed and fought his case from within? Blatter certainly gave him short shrift, declaring that the new British FIFA vice-president showed a total lack of responsibility by failing to appear. What happens to Gill’s position now will be decided by UEFA.
More immediately, some of FIFA’s most senior officials remain in custody. Blatter, sceptical to the point of paranoic, won’t budge from his firm belief the US federal investigation that shocked the world last week is an orchestrated western conspiracy cooked up by the United States and Britain, staged with deliberate timing to cause maximum damage both to FIFA and himself. That fails to take account of the fact that the likes of Concacaf president Jeffrey Webb, the supposed voice of truth who Blatter himself appointed to lead FIFA’s anti-discrimination body, will in all likelihood never serve the game again.
The FIFA president has promised, this time, to watch what goes on around him with more vigilance whilst at the same time making it clear that he can’t monitor everyone all of the time. That won’t have the slightest effect on those who want him out and who proclaim FIFA has simply become dysfunctional. The problem is, there are lot more who want him in.
That may sound preposterous given the tumultuous events of the past week but when Blatter entered Zurich’s Hallenstadion under a hail of flashbulbs on election day, it was clear almost from the start – and certainly when he addressed delegates – that loyalty ran deep, particularly in Africa where there has been a 40-fold increase in development funds over his tenure.
Four months to prepare their case was insufficient for his challengers who were reduced from three to one with days to go. Prince Ali will feel that with a little more time he could have made even further inroads into Blatter territory. But there was always only going to be one winner. One senior voice told me in the aftermath of the ballot: “Blatter spoke from the heart, Prince Ali from a prepared script.”
Nuff said. And 24 hours on, Blatter made it clear he was going nowhere, at least not the exit door. “Why would I step down? That would mean I recognise that I did something wrong. I fought for the last three or four years against all the corruption, against everything that is forbidden. More than half of the people who made the decisions [about the World Cup] are not here any more.”