THE MOST memorable scene as Sepp Blatter won re-election as FIFA president after defeating Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou by 139 votes to 56 in a secret ballot of the national associations, came shortly after the end of the FIFA congress in Seoul.
Blatter overcame serious allegations of mismanagement to win by a huge majority of 83 votes from the 197 votes cast (there were two spoilt papers) — far more than when he first won election to world soccer’s top job in 1998.
Earlier, Blatter, who had been accused of plunging FIFA into financial crisis, acknowledged his triumph with tears in his eyes, saying: “I register your deep trust in FIFA and in me. You cannot imagine what it means for me, having during the last few months been accused by certain press of being a bad man.”
An overjoyed Michel Platini hugged Blatter, while Franz Beckenbauer, another big supporter, expressed delight at the scale of the victory.
Blatter then closed the congress by getting all the delegates to stand up and hold hands as though they were at a revivalist meeting. “Do it, do it,” he urged.
It was then that the majority of delegates did something unexpected. Instead of heading for lunch, which had been delayed by 4.5 hours as the debate on finances rumbled on, they headed for the podium instead.
There they formed a long queue as a garlanded Blatter received them like a medieval king accepting homage from his subjects — except that in this case the homage offered was a football which an ecstatic Blatter happily signed.
The scene said much about Blatter and the FIFA organisation he now dominates. Blatter certainly had reason to savour his remarkable triumph. During the last three months he has been accused of financial mismanagement, paying cash for votes and making unauthorised payments. The dossier prepared by his own general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, is still the subject of a complaint being studied by a Swiss prosecutor.
On Tuesday, Blatter’s attempt to control a question and answer session on FIFA finances had angered delegates. Yesterday Blatter was a chastened chairman and stood for hours at the podium as speaker after speaker took the floor to criticise him.
David Will, a FIFA vice-president from Scotland, who had not been allowed to speak on Tuesday, now described his fears about FIFA’s finances.
FA chief executive Adam Crozier, another who was also not allowed to speak on Tuesday, said: “Yesterday, we believe the credibility of FIFA was severely damaged in front of the entire world. The governing body of football can only govern on trust, and that trust is clearly broken.”
Crozier then called for Zen-Ruffinen to be allowed the floor, a move which Blatter at first rejected until sustained booing forced him to change his mind.
Zen-Ruffinen said: “Certain payments have been made without the executive committee, the finance committee or the general-secretary being informed. The general management of the organisation is not working . If you want transparency and democracy, these have to be two principles which are respected and not applied only in certain circumstances.”
Blatter, who had last month suspended the investigation into FIFA’s finances, now accepted it could re-start after the World Cup and a report could be ready by the end of the year.
Blatter even allowed Antonio Matarrese, the retiring vice-president from Italy, to compare him unfavourably with former president Joao Havelange. Matarese said that Blatter did not have the charisma and gravitas of Havelange.
As all this went on and the election, which was the last item on agenda was delayed, the Hayatou camp grew bolder.
Just as the voting started one Hayatou’s adviser said: “We know we are going to win — not by 20 or 40, but comfortably.” Two hours later as the results were announced the same adviser was at a loss to explain Hayatou’s defeat.
Talking to African delegates it is clear that the English and Portuguese speaking Africans did not support Hayatou, a French speaking African, during the secret ballot. An insight into how one European nation voted was provided by Denmark’s Allan Hansen, who came to Seoul undecided and worried about FIFA finances. At the congress, however, he was swayed by Blatter’s explanations and voted for him as he did not know much about Hayatou.
Blatter has now asked for 100 days to come up with plans for structural changes within FIFA. In his first term he had to battle against his executive where he was in a minority. Now he has a majority and will be able to make sweeping changes in the FIFA administration. For his opponents a long, dark night of seeing Blatter strut the stage of world football lies ahead. And he will do more than just autograph footballs over the next four years.
© Mihir Bose