28 May 2015

Sepp Blatter: Fifa’s Teflon king

Facing the loudest calls yet for his resignation, can Sepp Blatter continue his decades-long reign as the head of football’s world governing body, Fifa? We take a look at his track record.

Claims of corrupt behaviour by Fifa’s president date back to before Mr Blatter got the top job.

Controversy from the outset

Fifa President Sepp Blatter in 1998 (Getty)

Following his elevation from general secretary to Fifa president in 1998, there were allegations that his victory over Uefa president Lennart Johansson had been unfairly won.

Swedish FA member Lars Christer Olsson told Channel 4 News in 1999 that “there were a lot of rumours, especially what was happening in Africa with the African delegates… that some delegates were paid.”

Just watch for a meaningless Fifa tournament to be staged in Qatar. David Yallop

Author David Yallop went further. He claimed that the then Emir of Qatar, using his Fifa representatives – in particular “a man called Hamman” – had “bought” the election for Blatter, telling Channel 4 News in 1999: “Blatter went and saw the Emir of Qatar while a confederations tournament was being played, some time before this election [to the Fifa presidency] became hot”.

And he made this prediction: “I don’t know what deal was done, but just watch for a meaningless Fifa tournament to be staged in Qatar.”

At that time Sepp Blatter said: “I refute the intolerable accusations levelled against me as a private individual, and counteract claims that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding my election to the presidency of Fifa in Paris last June.”

Already Blatter was gaining a reputation, with Lars Christer Olsson describing him as being like a “Pope” who did not allow others to question what he was doing.

2002 – ‘lost revenue’

In April 2002, just a month before the next Fifa presidential election, and to the fury of his opponents, Sepp Blatter suspended an investigation into Fifa’s finances.

Mr Blatter said that one of a six-member investigation committee had breached a confidentiality agreement they signed on their appointment. The calls for that investigation had been lead by the backers of Blatter’s presidential rival, Cameroonian Issa Hayatou. Mr Blatter was subsequently re-elected.

In May 2002 a Swiss newspaper published details of a confidential report by Fifa’s then general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, which alleged that Fifa had “lost almost £340m” during the first four years of Blatter’s reign due to financial mismanagement, cronyism and widespread corruption, and claimed the president used Fifa funds to ensure continued support.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Zen-Ruffinen said that Blatter ran the organisation like a dictator.

Blatter rejected the allegations, saying: “I have made mistakes now and then, but there have been no criminal actions… There are so many factual mistakes in his report. It is simply not serious.”

Amos Adamu (Getty)

2010 – corrupt World Cup bidding process

In November 2010 Nigerian Amos Adamu (pictured) was banned from Fifa’s executive committee for three years and fined 10,000 Swiss francs while fellow committee member Reynald Temarii was suspended for a year, after a Sunday Times expose alleged they had asked for cash in return for World Cup votes.

Fifa ethics committee chairman Claudio Sulser admitted the scandal has caused “great damage” to Fifa’s image.

But Fifa’s general secretary Jerome Valcke admitted that, despite the sanctions on two men involved, he could not guarantee a repetition of such behaviour: “Am I sure that 2018 and 2022 are free of any collusion? I can’t answer this question – I don’t vote and I have no idea what the discussions are between various members.”

But, citing Sepp Blatter himself, Mr Valcke said the fact that both the 2018 and 2022 tournaments were being bid for simultaneously had increased the potential for collusion:

“As the Fifa president [Sepp Blatter] said before, having two World Cup being bid for at the same time opened the door to such conversations between executive committee members – particularly as you have eight bids involved who have executive members in the room.”

Sepp Blatter at the 2011 Uefa congress (Getty)

2011 – a promise to step down by 2015

Standing for re-election in 2011, and facing his first challenge since Issa Hayatou stood and lost against him in 2002, 75-year-old Blatter promised he would not stand again in 2015, telling the Uefa congress in March 2011: “You know I aspire to another four years, [but] these will be the last years for which I stand as candidate.”

By May 2011 Mr Blatter had been called to appear before Fifa’s own ethics committee, alongside Mohamed bin Hammam, who was challenging him for the presidency, and Jack Warner, the president of the football confederation for the Caribbean, North and Central America, over allegations of corrupt payments.

‘Football is not in a crisis’

Within two days Fifa had decided to open a “full-blown” investigation into the actions of Mr bin Hamman and Mr Warner, but said that Mr Blatter would not face any investigation into allegations that he knew about corrupt payments.

Just days before the election Mohammed bin Hammam stood down, leaving Mr Blatter to be re-elected unopposed. Mr Blatter told a press conference “football is not in a crisis, only some difficulties.”

Council of Europe website

2012 – ‘extraordinary he did nothing’

Just a year later and Sepp Blatter was facing stinging criticism from the Council of Europe (COE). In a report into a bribery case involving the ISL sports marketing company, the COE cast doubt on Mr Blatter’s denials that he knew about what had been going on, noting that: “Mr Blatter was technical director of Fifa from 1975 to 1981, Fifa general secretary from 1981 to 1998 and has been its president ever since.

“Since Fifa was aware of significant sums paid to certain of its officials, it is difficult to imagine that Mr Blatter would not have known about this.

“That does not mean that he was directly involved in this case of backhanders. But I believe it is extraordinary that he did nothing to make public all the information which Fifa had or has and took no steps, whether internally or via the courts, to enable Fifa to obtain reparation.”

Questioned by Panorama reporter Andrew Jennings, Mr Blatter declined to comment on whether he had known about the illicit payments, saying: “No, sorry, I don’t speak about that.”

However he insisted that the Fifa ethics committee had been set up on his initiative in 2006, as a direct result of the ISL case. In April 2013 an ethics committee report cleared Mr Blatter of any misconduct over ISL, but his predecessor Joao Havelange, resigned as honorary Fifa president over the his part in the scandal.

Michael Garcia (Reuters)

2014 – Garcia report

In late 2014 Fifa announced that a 350-page report by US lawyer Michael Garcia into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups would not be made public for legal reasons. A 42-page summary, which cleared both Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing, was released instead.

Describing that summary as “materially incomplete” with “erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions”, Mr Garcia resigned from his role.

Sepp Blatter issued a statement saying he had “asked the Fifa executive committee to vote in favour of the publication of the [report]” – but not until the committee had dealt with charges against three Fifa executive committee members.

And he also insisted that the voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups would not be revisited.

2015 – ‘I cannot monitor everyone all the time’

A day before seeking re-election to the Fifa presidency, and following the arrest of seven senior Fifa executives in Switzerland on US corruption charges, Mr Blatter told the Fifa congress in Zurich: “I cannot monitor everyone all the time. If people want to do wrong they will also try to hide it.”

Read more: 'Surely it's time to say goodbye to Fifa, Mr Blatter?'

He went on: “If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it. But it must fall to me to … find a way forward to fix things.”