Europe

Sepp Blatter: End of era for Fifa boss

Sepp Blatter at Fifa headquarters in Zurich (20 June 2015) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sepp Blatter has led Fifa for 17 years, through numerous corruption and bribery scandals

Sepp Blatter's 17-year reign as head of world governing body Fifa has ended in ignominy after the world body's ethics committee banned him for eight years.

For months football's most powerful man has been weighed down by a slew of corruption allegations.

He has always denied the allegations, and will appeal against the eight-year ban, but it seems impossible for him to continue as Fifa president now.

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Media captionMr Blatter said he was "sorry that I am still somewhere a punching ball"

He was banned for allegedly signing a contract "unfavourable" to football's governing body and making a "disloyal payment" to Uefa president Michel Platini, who has also been suspended for eight years.

The ethics committee launched its investigation after the Swiss attorney-general began its own investigation into the disloyal payment - and this is still ongoing.

The embattled Fifa head had already announced earlier this year that he would be stepping down as president next February following the indictment of key Fifa officials on corruption charges by the US justice department.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Critics argue that Mr Blatter has tarnished Fifa's image

Sepp Blatter's troubles, however, do not stop there.

He is also being investigated by the ethics committee over allegations surrounding a 2005 TV rights deal between Fifa and Jack Warner, the former president of Concacaf, the governing body of football in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

His decision in June to resign early came as a surprise. Days before, he had been re-elected for an unprecedented fifth term and had insisted he was the man to lead reform at the organisation.

But the dramatic arrest of Fifa officials in their Zurich hotel rooms as they gathered for a congress on 27 May cast a dark cloud over his re-election.

What drove a man, soon to be 80, through four terms in such a high-profile, and highly scrutinised, position?

Playground king

Mr Blatter was born to a modest family in the alpine town of Visp. Legend has it he was the king of the playground at the local primary school in the 1940s, and the only boy there who possessed a professional-quality football.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters have caricatured Mr Blatter as venal and corrupt but he has always denied wrongdoing
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Blatter (left) argues that a 2m Swiss franc (£1.35m) payment to Michel Platini (right) in 2011 was "valid compensation" for work carried out more than nine years previously

After school Mr Blatter followed a not unusual career pattern for a Swiss man in the 1960s and 70s. He did his obligatory service in Switzerland's militia army, rising to the rank of colonel. While there he made contacts which would serve him later in life.

Mr Blatter worked in the watch industry, and increasingly in sports management, serving at the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation before moving to Fifa as its technical director in 1975.

Image copyright AP
Image caption As global football chief, Sepp Blatter has consorted with world leaders over the years

When he was first elected as Fifa president in 1998 there was a certain amount of national celebration in his home country, remembers Roland Buechel, a Swiss member of parliament and campaigner for more transparency at the top of football.

"We were proud to have a Swiss person in charge of such an important international organisation," he says.

In Visp, Mr Blatter's old school was renamed after him. His portrait hangs in the hall and sports days regularly bear his name.

He continues to receive a warm welcome when he visits the town.

"He's very uncomplicated, very approachable," says Hans-Peter Berchtold, sports editor of the local newspaper Walliserbote.

People are 'not blind'

Nevertheless, Mr Berchtold admits that when it comes to the allegations of corruption at Fifa, even Mr Blatter's oldest acquaintances are "not blind".


Sepp Blatter

  • Once worked as a sports writer and was member of the International Association of Sports Journalists
  • Has caused offence during his tenure for remarks perceived to be misogynistic and homophobic
  • His salary as Fifa president has never been disclosed
  • He speaks fluent Italian, English, French, German and Spanish

"Everyone knows there are problems at Fifa," he says. "But they don't think Sepp Blatter should be made responsible for all of them."

Mr Berchtold argues that there are plenty of positive aspects to the Fifa president's record, among them promoting football in developing countries, successfully staging Africa's first-ever World Cup, and, more recently, committing Fifa to a process of reform.

But that is precisely where some of Mr Blatter's critics disagree. "He has had 17 years to improve governance at Fifa," says Eric Martin, head of the Swiss branch of the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International.

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Media captionSepp Blatter: Watch the full interview

In 2011 an independent panel convened by Fifa proposed a package of reforms. Fifa's decision to ignore its recommendations for fixed terms, age limits, and full disclosure of cash, was criticised by Transparency International.

And while some old friends describe him as down to earth and open, others who have worked with Mr Blatter say he resents opposition, pointing to the swift departure of Fifa colleagues who dared to question him.

Mr Blatter had bluntly turned down a suggestion of a television debate with candidates standing against him.

When asked once about his reaction to criticism of his stewardship of Fifa, the loudest of which has come from media in World Cup heavyweights Germany and England, Mr Blatter replied, somewhat ominously, that he could "forgive, but not forget".

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