LONDON (Reuters) - Teflon-coated Sepp Blatter has survived plenty of crises during his 16 years as FIFA president and although the current one over the Garcia corruption report takes world soccer’s governing body into uncharted waters, he is very likely to come through it too.
Previous scandals include the collapse of FIFA’s former marketing partner ISL in 2001, allegations over bribes paid to former FIFA president Joao Havelange and other senior officials, and financial mismanagement claims made by former FIFA secretary general Michel Zen Ruffinen in 2002.
Blatter survived those crises, and plenty of others including the one when he himself was investigated, and cleared, by FIFA’s Ethics Committee of bribery allegations in May 2011.
This latest “difficulty”, as Blatter likes to call the squalls that continually hang over his organization, shows no signs of abating and has developed into something more resembling a hurricane over the last two days.
German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, head of the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s Ethics Committee, on Thursday published a 42-page summary of New York attorney Michael Garcia’s 420-page report into alleged corruption surrounding the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
Three hours later Garcia, who spent over a year investigating the alleged corruption, responded that Eckert’s summary was “materially incomplete and an erroneous misrepresentation” of his findings.
He also said he was going to appeal against Eckert’s summary.
In the meantime, FIFA executive committee members Jeffrey Webb, the CONCACAF confederation president, Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. association, and FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne — among others — have called for FIFA to publish the report in full, redacted, or edited where appropriate.
So where does all this leave Blatter, who has signaled his intention to stand for a fifth term as FIFA president in next year’s election when he will be 79 years old?
A revealing insight into Blatter’s mindset comes from Belgian FA president Michel D’Hooghe, a member of the FIFA executive committee, who spoke to Reuters in Monte Carlo recently.
“He is powerful, he is untouchable, he is, I would say, the Pope of Football,” D’Hooghe said.
“He is an incredibly intelligent man, he knows everything, and everybody, and knows how everything works. And he has enormous political nous.
“You could say, and there are those in UEFA that do, that if you are 78, 79 and you are the boss of an organization that has been seriously criticized, then you must take responsibility for the criticism. But this is not how it works in FIFA.”
One former FIFA executive committee member, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, explained: “He is the world champion of manipulation, a master. There is no-one like him, no-one.
“Look how he handled the Sunday Times story regarding the corruption allegations over the vote to Qatar. He immediately branded all Europeans “racist” because they said ‘Look at what is happening in Africa, in Asia’.
“He didn’t involve himself in any way about the stories regarding bribery, but just blamed Europe for being racist. That is the kind of manipulation he does on a lot of things.
“So those kind of comments win him the support of those who feel attacked by what they regard as the European elite.
“But he also rules by what I call, his extremely anti-democratic way of management because things are never brought to discussion. The decision-making is not based on how it would be in a western democracy.
“It does not happen in FIFA. There is no forum.
“So the question is how can this go on? It goes on because he is in a position to give the federations money, through World Cup bonuses and the Goal Project (grass roots funding) and does things like remove all age limits for officials. It is all totally above board.
“So they can stay as long as they like, and in return he gets their votes. That’s all it comes down to in the end: money and votes.”
No matter what the media, or his opponents say about him while this current crisis rages, Blatter looks untouchable and remains the overwhelming favorite to be re-elected president next year.
Just before this year’s World Cup in Brazil, five of FIFA’s six continental confederations publicly expressed their support for him with only Europe’s UEFA declaring its opposition.
It is inconceivable to think that many will change their minds by next May.
Editing by Ed Osmond