Sepp Blatter: Why the Fifa president is going nowhere

Sepp Blatter
Sepp Blatter has been criticised over the damage that corruption allegations have caused football's governing body

For much of this week, a fleet of police outriders have been parked outside Sao Paulo's Grand Hyatt hotel, ready to escort Fifa's 78-year-old president Sepp Blatter to his next meeting.

Everywhere he goes, the leader of football's world governing body is accompanied by a group of men in dark suits and even darker glasses.

As he sweeps through the lobby, past waiting television crews and reporters, it is hard to believe the Swiss is a sports administrator.

It is the sort of scene you would expect to greet US president Barack Obama. But then it is a sign of just how powerful football - and the World Cup in particular - has become.

Blatter was elected by the world's football associations in 1998. Before that, he was Fifa's general secretary.

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Blatter dances at Fifa congress opening ceremony

During his time in charge, he has overseen the game's extraordinary financial growth and expansion. For this, he must surely take some of the credit.

As one Fifa executive said to me this week: "What company chief executive or chairman would not claim he or she was a key player in the development of a hugely successful and profitable product?"

Yet Blatter has also become the very public face of Fifa's slide into scandal and disrepute.

For the last decade, the governing body has faced claims of mismanagement and wave after wave of corruption allegations.

To many, Fifa's leaders seem completely oblivious to all the fuss. But beyond the five-star bubble, people are getting restless.

Here in Brazil, arguably the most passionate football nation on earth, the World Cup has created division.

Hosting it is costing Brazil almost £8bn.

At a time of economic uncertainty, the World Cup and Fifa have become the focus for a coalition of social movements.

In the last week, Sao Paulo has been crippled by striking metro workers and Thurday's opening game between the hosts and Croatia is likely to be targeted by protesters.

Brazilians - especially the young men and women I have spoken to this week - seem uncertain how to feel about it all.

The atmosphere is subdued and the build-up surprisingly low key.

What happens in Brazil now is essentially out of Fifa's hands. Its far bigger problem lies eight years down the road.

A police officer pepper sprays strikers and protesters during a clash with riot police in front of the Ana Rosa metro station, in an ongoing subway strike by operators in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on 9 June 9, 2014
Hundreds in Brazil have clashed with police during a protest against increased fares for public transport

The decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup back in December 2010 has been causing Fifa problems ever since.

Few at the time could understand how such a tiny country with no football culture and an indigenous population of just 400,000 could land the game's showpiece event.

Almost four years on, it is still attracting claims of vote rigging, corruption and secret deals - all co-ordinated, according to the Sunday Times newspaper, by Qatar's former Fifa vice president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Qatar's World Cup organising committee has reiterated it is confident the bid was won fairly while Bin Hammam has so far declined to comment. But while there is no smoking gun, all this is extremely uncomfortable for Fifa.

Much now hinges on an investigation by the former New York district attorney Michael Garcia, Fifa's independent ethics investigator.

His report on the World Cup bidding process needs to convince the sceptics that Fifa is prepared to take claims of corruption seriously.

Many fear it will be a whitewash, a concern that will not have been eased by Garcia's address to the annual Fifa congress this week.

He said he and his team had already reviewed the files now being published by the Sunday Times.

Last week, the normally sober Economist magazine launched a scathing attack on Fifa, wanting to know why football is run by such a group of mediocrities and describing Blatter as the sort of dinosaur who left corporate boardrooms in the 1970s.

Yet some improvements are in train.

Many of the Fifa executive committee who decided the hosts for 2018 and 2022 World Cup have either moved on or been moved on.

In the future, World Cup bids will be decided by all 209 member countries, not the 25 voting members of the executive.

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World Cup 2022: Qatar determined to retain tournament

But this week's Fifa congress rejected proposals to introduce term limits for football officials - another sign that, for all the talk, this organisation remains reluctant to change.

Even if the term limits proposal had been passed, they would not have been put in place in time to stop Blatter standing for a fifth term as president next year.

In his closing remarks to the congress, Blatter made it abundantly clear that he has no intention to leave the stage.

Calls from European football leaders for him to stand down on Tuesday made absolutely no impact as he told delegates his mission was not finished.

He knows that, for all the controversies and scandals, his popularity with the vast majority of football associations remains greater than ever.

That is because, no matter how big the crisis at Fifa, the financial power of the World Cup just keeps growing.

Half the world will watch some of the action from Brazil over the next month, while sponsors and television companies - for all their private anxieties about Fifa - know that no event beyond the summer Olympic Games has this reach.

As a consequence, Fifa is awash with cash.

Its projected budget for the next World Cup cycle from 2015 to 2018 is almost £3bn and it has now built up reserves of £830m. Much of this money is then handed on to the 209 member countries.

Here, every national football association was promised a bonus of £450,000. For the vast majority of smaller, poorer nations, this is the sport's most important income stream.

And as long as the money keeps coming, then Blatter's grip on world football won't weaken.

Once the World Cup kicks off, much of the noise around Fifa will die down as the football takes over.

For Blatter and Fifa, it is likely to be a temporary reprieve.