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Get ready for another four years with Sepp Blatter

Get ready for another four years with Sepp Blatter

Unless something drastic changes over the next two days, Sepp Blatter is set to rule world football for another four years. Many have criticised him, but everyone still votes for him, and it’s likely to remain that way when FIFA have its elections later this week. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Those few souls who live in a world where all is fair and free in the land of FIFA elections are likely to get a little shock later in the week. Incumbent Sepp Blatter is likely to extend his 17-year presidential reign after both Luis Figo and Michael van Praag pulled out of the running last year. That leaves Blatter with just one challenger: Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al Hussein. But Figo has not exited stage left without some noise.

“I do not fear the ballot box, but I will not go along with, nor will I give my consent to, a process which will end on May 29, and from which soccer will not emerge the winner,” Figo wrote on his Facebook page.

“My decision is made. I will not stand in what is being called an election for the FIFA presidency. I have seen with my own eyes federation presidents who, after one day comparing FIFA leaders to the devil, then go on stage and compare those same people with Jesus Christ. Nobody told me about this. I saw it with my own eyes,” he wrote.

Figo was referencing the Concacaf congress, where Blatter was compared to Jesus, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, but refused to debate his scandal-hit dictatorships at the helm of FIFA. Figo was also critical of Blatter’s resistance to public debate and lack of presenting a manifesto adding that what he had witnessed “should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic”.

In 2011, Blatter had said that he would stand down from the role this year, but has since backtracked saying he needs more time to complete his vision. Blatter has also since referred to himself as a mountain goat.

“I am a mountain goat that keeps going and going and going. I cannot be stopped, I just keep going,” he told NZZ newspaper in an interview. Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, said that part of the reason Blatter carries on is because he fears the “emptiness” that might come after spending so much of his life working for the organisation and insisted that, as long as Blatter is at the helm, it will be football that suffers.

“While he remains in place, whether he likes it or not, and whether it is fair or not, FIFA will lack credibility and its image will be tarnished, and so it will lack authority. Moreover, it will be football that suffers,” Platini said.

But if Blatter loves football and FIFA so much, then he should be putting the governing body ahead of his own interests. As it stands, FIFA is a playground for the corrupt, and if Blatter enters his fifth term, something unheard of under democratic rule, he will remain the face of it. On Blatter’s watch, accusations of vote buying in World Cup bidding, vote “buying” at the 2011 election, World Cup ticket scams and many other scandals have hit the sport’s governing body, yet somehow, he remains untouched and firmly rooted at the top of world football.

But Blatter is a wily old fox and, even if it turns your stomach, you have to at least give the man some credit for his ability to charm and play the game. He knows every national association’s chairman’s name. He knows the name of their wives and he uses his charisma to woo them over. He knows which promises to make to rising countries outside of the west and he how to do that within the rules, or at least, how not to get caught. He knows that when those countries in the west yell “corruption”, others will dismiss them as being sore losers. Blatter knows where to curry favour and where the deciding votes lie.

Michel D’Hooghe, honorary president of the Belgian FA and a FIFA Exco member, says Blatter knows the game better than anyone.

“He cannot be summed up in only one phrase, but if I had to answer with one word it would be: intelligence. He is an incredibly intelligent man, he knows everything, and everybody and knows how everything works,” he told Reuters.

“He has enormous political nous. You could say, and there are those in Uefa that do, that if you are 79 and you are the boss of an organisation that has been seriously criticised, then you must take responsibility for the criticism.

“On the other hand, his life is FIFA, he may be 79, but he is incredibly mentally alert. He understands the cultures of different parts of the world that make up FIFA so it is no coincidence that most of the members would vote for him,” he said.

“Of course, you can say that they feel good because they receive a lot of money and grants from FIFA – that is his political behaviour,” he said.

Outside of Europe, Blatter is basically worshipped. How much of that is a symptom of his position of power and ability to give federations money through World Cup bonuses or the Goal Project, nobody will ever really know, but it’s clear that he is a popular man. Popular enough to be re-elected and continue his stranglehold on power for at least another four years. DM

Photo: FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures as he addresses a news conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich May 30, 2011. Blatter denied soccer’s governing body was in crisis on Monday, saying his organisation would solve any “difficulties” internally.     REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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