Hailed as 'Superman' by his supporters, the Swiss football chief speaks of a 'danger lurking' as he prepares to win a one-horse race election to be the game's overlord once more
By Miles Evans in Zurich
"Are you ready to party?!" Grace Jones urged the Fifa hierarchy crammed into Zurich’s Hallenstadion on Tuesday as delegates tried to half-heartedly foot-tap their way through the world governing body’s darkest hour.
The Jamaican warbler clearly hadn’t been briefed; the backdrop of corruption, name calling, backstabbing and high treason fitting for the James Bond film she once graced has taken Fifa to its lowest ebb in more than 100 years.
Did Qatar buy its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup? Will defeated federations seek recompense for the huge outlay on lavish campaigns that ended in such futile fashion in December? Will more emerge about the alleged grubby dealings going on behind the doors of power?
Surely no party mood here.
But Fifa doesn’t do ‘low-key’ nor does it go big on introspection. And the grand opening to the 61st Congress lacked nothing in austerity-busting largesse, yet no-one could quite take their mind off the elephant in the room.
After a juggler and a Swiss dance troupe gave a performance that would have given the von Trapps a run for their money in Austria’s Got Talent, or the Sound of Music as it was better known 46 years ago, it was time for the top of the bill to make his entrance.
Sepp Blatter, destined for another four years at the helm as President after his sole challenger Mohammed Bin Hammam was forced to politely opt out of Wednesday’s now pyrrhic election, swept to the podium amid a ripple of applause more akin to a modest graduation ceremony.
He warned of dangers that lurked ahead for the beautiful game.
"I thought we were living in a world of fair play, respect and discipline,” Blatter told his hushed audience, the irony lost on pretty much every delegate present.
“I will speak of the danger lurking and I will tell you how we can fight this threat of danger, how our sport can play its role in bringing people together in the future.”
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Jacques Rogge, the man at the heart of the IOC’s transformation from the dubiously elitist to model of sports administration, leant his support, saying the Olympics had faced its own nadir after the Salt Lake City bribery scandal and had gone on to ‘emerge stronger from within’.
And so it carried on, the longer the day progressed the more it seemed the anger and bile had a peculiarly British tinge.
As coach load upon coach load of Fifa stalwarts pulled up at the rain-soaked venue, a succession of exotically dressed delegates pledged their support to Herr Blatter. One when asked why replied: "Because he’s Superman."
"I will speak of the danger lurking and I will tell you how we can fight this threat of danger"
The English and Scottish FAs issued an isolated rallying cry urging Fifa to postpone Wednesday’s Blatter walkover while esteemed international sports newspapers like L’Equipe and Gazzate dello Sport relegated the scandal from their leading pages.
For one Fifa patriarch, the 95-year-old former President Joao Havelange, the controversy was very much in the ‘storm in a teacup’ category.
“You are talking about suffering,” he told reporters.
“But I want to talk about happiness. What do you think would happen if the President was an English candidate? Everyone looks for mistakes because everyone wants to sit in that chair.”
And so attention turns to Wednesday and Blatter’s coronation.
Word is that Uefa are urging the Teflon Swiss to seek only a two-year extension to his reign at the top of the world’s most popular game, but history has shown he is no man for compromise and why should he contemplate one after pulling off the greatest coup of his career?