Sepp Blatter never shuns publicity. As a child, he loved being on the stage and his one regret about leaving his job as FIFA secretary general to become president was that he would no longer conduct the World Cup draw.
The thought of not being on stage with millions glued to the box as he shuffled the balls was agony.
Yet, for the first time in his career, this World Cup has forced Blatter to shy away from publicity. The last time he was shown on one of the big stadium screens was more than a week ago when Germany played Portugal in Salvador. As pictures of him cosying up to Angela Merkel flashed up on the screen boos rang out from the crowd. The German Chancellor was often shown again that night, glorying in her team’s thrashing of Portugal but Blatter disappeared from view as if he had never been there.
Blatter was also booed during the opening match between Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo but there he was with the detested Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was the target of foul‑mouth abuse from the fans. But there was no doubt whom the Salvador crowd hated and it looked as though Blatter would not venture into another stadium — he watched just three matches in the first week.
Since then, however, he has seen another four more but his experience at Sunday’s clash between Belgium and Russia showed how life has changed for him. While the spectators saw Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde on the Maracana big screens watching their country progress to the last 16, Blatter remained invisible.
For a man who loves letting the world know he is sitting next to a head of state, or even better a royal, it could not have been more galling. Such public proximity to authority justifies his pose that he is no ordinary sports administrator but the head of a state called FIFA, the sporting equivalent of the Vatican.
In 2010, Blatter could not hide his joy when he sat next to Nelson Mandela for the final. The South Africans were not sure that Mandela should be outside on a cold winter night in Johannesburg given his frail condition. It was so cold everyone in FIFA’s VIP box was given a blanket. In the end, Mandela watched the match as it was felt his absence would not go down well with Blatter.
But, while Blatter shuns publicity this summer, he is still in Brazil unlike some of his executive members, including Michel Platini, who left immediately after the opening match. As one executive member, now back home, put it to me: “Six-and-a-half weeks in Brazil is a long time.”
This sounds odd given FIFA’s top bosses are housed in Rio’s sumptuous Copacabana Palace, where a floor has been converted into the FIFA Club. In addition to their annual £120,000 salary, they get around £400 a day while here and are driven straight to the special VIP entrance of grounds in cars escorted by outriders. This is hardship most fans would love.
These executive members will fly back first class for the semi-finals and final where Blatter faces a tricky decision. Vladimir Putin is expected for the final and Blatter would like nothing more than to be seen on the Maracana screen next to the Russian President. But will he do that and invite the wrath of the Brazilian crowd? He just might do that if Brazil make it to Rio on July 13.
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