Büchel about Blatter - the man who won't give up
29. Mai 2015
Erschienen in: BBC

Sepp Blatter: The man who won't give up

When police raided the luxury Baur au Lac hotel, overlooking Lake Zurich early on Wednesday, it was not the curtain-raiser that Fifa's Sepp Blatter had in mind for his re-election as president of football's world governing body in two days' time.

Many viewed Friday's election as more of a ceremonial coronation than a democratic ballot, but the dramatic arrest of Fifa officials in their hotel rooms cast a dark cloud over proceedings.

Suspicion has hung about Fifa for years, and although Mr Blatter is not thought to be implicated in Wednesday's arrests, one has to wonder - why is he so determined to carry on in the top job?

Mr Blatter was re-elected for an unprecedented fifth four-year term, and in doing so remains in charge of a multibillion-dollar sport.

What drives a man, soon to be 80, and who once promised not to stand for re-election, to so clearly crave another four years in such a high profile, and highly scrutinised, position?

"He clearly considers himself to be the only person capable of running Fifa," says Roland Buechel, a Swiss member of parliament and campaigner for more transparency at the top of football.

"I assume he wants to die in office".

Playground king

Mr Blatter was born to a modest family in the alpine town of Visp. Legend has it he was the king of the playground at the local primary school in the 1940s, and the only boy there who possessed a professional-quality football.

After school Mr Blatter followed a not unusual career pattern for a Swiss man in the 1960s and 70s. He did his obligatory service in Switzerland's militia army, rising to the rank of colonel. While there he made contacts which would serve him later in life.

Mr Blatter worked in the watch industry, and increasingly in sports management, serving at the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation before moving to Fifa as its technical director in 1975.

When he was first elected as Fifa president in 1998 there was, Mr Buechel remembers, a certain amount of national celebration in Mr Blatter's home country.

"We were proud to have a Swiss person in charge of such an important international organisation," he says.

In Visp, Mr Blatter's old school was renamed after him. His portrait hangs in the hall and sports days regularly bear his name.

He continues to receive a warm welcome when he visits the town.

"He's very uncomplicated, very approachable," says Hans-Peter Berchtold, sports editor of the local newspaper Walliserbote.

People are 'not blind'

Nevertheless, Mr Berchtold admits that when it comes to the allegations of corruption at Fifa, even Mr Blatter's oldest acquaintances are "not blind".

"Everyone knows there are problems at Fifa," he says. "But they don't think Sepp Blatter should be made responsible for all of them."

Mr Berchtold argues that there are plenty of positive aspects to the Fifa president's record, among them promoting football in developing countries, successfully staging Africa's first-ever World Cup, and, more recently, committing Fifa to a process of reform.

But that is precisely where some of Mr Blatter's critics disagree. "He has had 17 years to improve governance at Fifa," says Eric Martin, head of the Swiss branch of the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International. "I'm sceptical whether he will ever do it now."

In 2011 an independent panel convened by Fifa proposed a package of reforms. Fifa's decision to ignore its recommendations for fixed terms, age limits, and full disclosure of cash, was criticised by Transparency International.

"In Switzerland we change our president every year," says Eric Martin, head of the anti-corruption body's Swiss branch. "I'm sure Fifa could do the same after 17 years."

And while some old friends describe him as down-to-earth and open, others who have worked with him say he resents opposition, pointing to the swift departure of Fifa colleagues who dared to question him.

Mr Blatter bluntly turned down a suggestion of a television debate with candidates standing against him.

When asked once about his reaction to criticism of his stewardship of Fifa, the loudest of which has come from media in World Cup heavyweights Germany and England, Mr Blatter replied, somewhat ominously, that he could "forgive, but not forget".

'Don Blatterone'

Many in Switzerland wonder how Mr Blatter can have been in charge of Fifa for so long, amid so many reports of corruption, and yet remain apparently untouched.

One Swiss newspaper jokingly called him "the dark prince of football, the godfather, Don Blatterone" - but no inquiry has ever revealed proof of his involvement in bribery.

"He's a survivor," says Mr Buechel. "Nothing ever sticks to him, there is always someone between him and the bribes."

"I can tell you for sure he is not bribable," counters Hans-Peter Berchtold. "Money is not what motivates him."

What emerges then, finally, is a man who both critics and supporters say cannot imagine his life without Fifa. His career there has outlasted three marriages. Mr Buechel and Mr Martin believe that Mr Blatter's determination to hold on to his post is now damaging football's governing body by not allowing space for successors to emerge.

Even fans like Mr Berchtold express regret that Mr Blatter did not accept the time was right to leave.

"He could have had a nice retirement here in Visp," he says. "He had the chance now to leave by the front entrance."

Now Mr Berchtold fears that "if something bad at Fifa happens" over the next four years, an octogenarian Mr Blatter could be bundled unceremoniously out the back door - not a nice ending for the boy who kicked a football round Visp schoolyard.

Perhaps Fifa is Sepp Blatter's playground now and he still wants to be king. And kings, of course, rarely abdicate.

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 © Roland Rino Büchel Realisiert durch RightSight.ch