Evening Standard

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The mix of farce and politics that has marked the 13-year reign of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president has ensured again today that the Swiss will have another four years at the head of world football.

The farce came when the delegates from the 208 nations on the stage of the Congress were asked to test the voting system by answering the question of who won the World Cup last year.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke told them a billion people had watched the final: “You must have been among them,” he said. Well apparently seven of FIFA’s national associations were not because they pressed the wrong button.

If this was FIFA humour at work what followed showed the real hand of Blatter at work the master politician as he faced up to the challenge of England proposing that the election be postponed as a result of the corruption crisis that has engulfed the organisation.

David Bernstein, chairman of the Football Association, came up to the dais looking like a solicitor from the sticks who had brought bad news to the family. He began with an apology: “It gives me no pleasure to do this.”

He then went on to make his case for not holding the election where Blatter would be the only candidate. “A coronation without an opposition provides a false mandate,” he argued.

What followed showed why Blatter controls FIFA. One by one delegates stood up to declare their support for him, castigate England and argue that in this moment of crisis it was Blatter who was the man to lead.

This was political choreography almost like the show that had opened the Congress last night. Then in the ice-hockey arena where it is being held a juggler had shown his skills and Grace Jones had sung and at one stage even fraternised with some of FIFA’s ageing members of the executive almost sitting on the lap of Julio Grondona, the chairman of finance.

However, what we saw today at the 61st FIFA Congress was a real political theatre orchestrated by Blatter in his most ruthless fashion.

Bernstein was followed by Haiti, a country which has suffered much from many natural disasters. Haiti, after pulling our heartstrings about how football had helped the country, delivered a pointed jab at England.

“Contrary to what my colleague from England said we can deal with this crisis by strengthening our organisation,” said Haiti’s Yves Jean-Bart. “The president has done it in the past and he can do it again.”

He was followed by the delegates from Congo, Benin, Cyprus and Fiji who all turned on Bernstein and when it came to the vote on the FA’s proposal only 17 associations supported with 172 opposed.

Blatter, who on Monday had said: “Crisis? Where is the crisis?” did seem to take on board what the Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey had told the opening session yesterday in urging Blatter to “take seriously the many criticisms voiced about corruption,” and reform FIFA’S governance.

The 75-year-old said today: “I am the captain of the ship. It is my duty to bring it back to the right route. You are the owners and with your help we will do it.”

He proposed three changes, the biggest of which will see the World Cup hosts chosen by all of the 208 member nations rather than the 24-man executive committee. Blatter also announced that the countries will select the ethics committee and a group will be set up to examine FIFA’s corporate governance.

But he has promised reform in the past and not delivered. In one of the great ironies of recent times the football world, having assembled to witness Blatter’s burial, leaves Zurich with the English FA buried.

The FA’s political judgement is in question and there are fears the privileges of the four home nations may be in danger from the wrath of a Blatter basking in vanquishing his enemies.


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