In the end, nothing could stop Sepp Blatter be it a far-reaching corruption scandal, a tarnished international image or a young prince who gave him a stronger-than-expected challenge.
Despite the biggest crisis in FIFA’s 111-year history, Blatter emerged victorious once again Friday, winning re-election as president of world soccer’s governing body for a fifth term and proving he is the sport’s ultimate survivor.
“I am now the president of everybody,” the 79-year-old Blatter crowed after defeating Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan to secure another four years in office as one of the most powerful men in sports.
Blatter was declared the victor after Prince Ali withdrew following the first round of secret balloting among FIFA’s 209 member federations. Blatter won the first ballot 133-73, seven votes short of the two-thirds majority required for victory.
Before the start of the second round, where a simple majority would be enough for victory, the 39-year-old prince conceded defeat. By preventing Blatter from securing an outright first-round triumph, Prince Ali gave Blatter a symbolic bloody nose and showed that his previous iron grip on the organization has weakened.
“I want to thank all of you who were brave enough to support me,” Prince Ali told the delegates.
With FIFA in turmoil amid a pair of U.S. and Swiss corruption investigations, Blatter had remained defiant and refused to step down — as demanded by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA.
The result of the one-vote-per-country election proved that Blatter retains the loyalty of the many smaller countries in Africa and Asia, a bloc that is enough to counter his critics in Europe and elsewhere.
“I like you. I like my job,” Blatter said to the assembly after receiving a mix of cheers and jeers as he stepped to the stage for his victory speech. “I am not perfect, nobody is perfect, but we will do a good job together I am sure.”
Then he exhorted the delegates: “Together we go! Let’s go FIFA! Let’s go FIFA!”
The election took place two days after seven soccer officials were arrested in dawn raids at a luxury Zurich hotel. The U.S. Justice Department indicted 14 people on charges of bribery, racketeering, money-laundering and other charges. In a separate investigation, Swiss authorities are looking into FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. And Britain’s Serious Fraud Office said Friday it is assessing “material in its possession” relating to allegations of FIFA corruption.
Blatter himself was not implicated in the U.S. indictments, but prosecutors have said the investigations are far from over.
FIFA’s big-money sponsors have also called for change within FIFA. Visa warned it could pull out of its contract, which is worth at least $25 million a year through 2022.
Blatter, who has been in office for 17 years, portrayed himself as the man who can guide FIFA through the tumult and restore trust in an organization that has been left battered and reeling from years of corruption accusations. (Courtesy the Associated Press)