Fifa corruption scandal
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FBI agents after a raid on the headquarters of Concacaf. Photo: AFP

Can Teflon-coated Sepp Blatter survive Fifa scandal?

Sepp Blatter is arguably the most powerful man in world sports and certainly its greatest survivor.


Sepp Blatter is arguably the most powerful man in world sports and certainly its greatest survivor.

Now comes the biggest challenge of his 17-year rule of Fifa: dealing with the US and Swiss-led criminal investigations into corruption among soccer officials - including some who were sipping drinks with Blatter in the days before being arrested on Wednesday morning in Zurich.

Despite the corruption scandals that have scarred Fifa for years, the Teflon-coated Blatter has successfully held onto the presidency, his authority seemingly undiminished.

But the timing of this raid could not be worse for 79-year-old Swiss-born Blatter.

It came only two days before he goes up against Fifa vice-president Prince Ali of Jordan in the first contested election for the body's presidency since 2002.

Blatter hid from public view on Wednesday, cancelling planned meetings with regional confederations, while sending out a spokesman to defend him in front of the media on the darkest day in Fifa's 111-year history.

Media chief Walter de Gregorio seemed bemused by suggestions Blatter should be considering his position, only accepting that his leader's "stress factor is higher".

"He is not dancing in his office .... He is not kind of a happy man today saying," De Gregorio said on Wednesday.

"But this is the consequence of what we initiated. ... The timing might not obviously be the best but Fifa welcomes this process."

The raid on Fifa was a result of Blatter announcing in November that its secret World Cup investigation report had been handed over to Swiss authorities to assess. It suggests Blatter was sure the finger of suspicion would not fall on him.

Now, with an election to be won today, Fifa is trying to accentuate Blatter's role as the person to banish soccer of its "devils" - a word he has used in the past - and clean up the "Beautiful Game". It is a mission Blatter suggested in December was ordained by God.

"I believe in the Lord," the staunch Catholic said. "From time to time he tells me I can go directly to the Vatican. .... I will bring back Fifa."

Blatter is credited with turning Fifa into a commercial behemoth. The US$5 billion quadrennial World Cup is a magnet for fans, broadcasters and sponsors, funding handouts for the 209 national associations, many of whom are indebted to Blatter for Fifa's generosity.

"Perhaps you think I am a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of the world and out of football - the Godfather of the Fifa gravy train," he told students at Oxford University in November 2013. "There are those who will tell you of the supposed sordid secrets that lie deep in our [James] Bond-villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich."

But Blatter's ability to survive suggests today's most likely outcome: his re-election for a fifth, four-year term.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Can Teflon-coated Blatter survive Fifa scandal?