Disgraced Sepp Blatter hijacks Russia 2018 World Cup as Vladimir Putin trolls Fifa and football fans

Former Fifa chief had personal invitation from Russian president, and took the chance to use the spotlight to try to spin the narrative over financial misconduct allegations

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 4:43pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 6:40pm

With the World Cup flying in the face of predictions that it would be a doom and gloom affair, Russian President Vladimir Putin just couldn’t resist trolling everyone – well, it is what he does best.

At the invitation of Putin, disgraced former Fifa president Sepp Blatter turned up in Moscow on Wednesday to watch Cristiano Ronaldo score as Portugal beat Morocco 1-0.

Yes, the same Blatter who was banned by Fifa for eight years, after 17 years in charge, amid the corruption scandal that engulfed world football’s governing body in 2015. The term was later reduced to six years.

The 82-year-old Swiss was found guilty by Fifa of financial misconduct, and remains under investigation by authorities in his homeland for a 2 million Swiss francs (HK$15.7 million) “disloyal payment” in 2011 to former Uefa president Michel Platini, who resigned from his post. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

Despite being banned from all football-related activity for another three and a half years, there Blatter was watching Ronaldo light up the Luzhniki Stadium with his fourth goal of the tournament.

“Fifa has taken note of Mr Blatter’s visit to Russia,” Fifa told the BBC. “We have no further comment at this present stage.”

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Nothing stops Blatter from buying a ticket or being invited to watch in a VIP area, and you didn’t expect the notorious grifter to roll up to the box office.

“I am not involved in football activities, I am a personal guest here today,” he told Channel 4 News.

His name wasn’t on the official list of VIPs at the Luzhniki Stadium issued by Fifa at kick-off, but it was hard to miss Blatter’s arrival in Moscow, where he was mobbed by television cameras at the St Regis hotel.

Blatter told The New York Times he would meet Putin during his trip, and why not? Putin owed his old buddy one for so feverishly steering support among Fifa’s congress for Russia’s World Cup bid.

Russia was a shock winner for the 2018 tournament at the vote in December 2010, with even Putin himself was taken aback by the result – he says he is far more interested in ice hockey and martial arts.

“I’m here to enjoy the World Cup,” Blatter said after arriving on Tuesday.

Blatter will also watch Brazil’s match against Costa Rica on Friday before flying back to Switzerland.

Putin will shrug off any negative reaction to Blatter’s appearance, just like he shrugged his shoulders in a mock apologetic gesture to Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud when Russia scored the opening goal of the tournament after 12 minutes.

Blatter’s successor as Fifa president, Gianni Infantino – who played his part in that cringeworthy showing for the television cameras while sat between the two leaders – won’t mind either.

The Italian was sat away from his Swiss predecessor in a Fifa suite for the Portugal match. See no evil, hear, yadda yadda.

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Blatter still couldn’t resist having a dig at Fifa, though, suggesting they have shown him a lack of respect.

“It should not be an embarrassment to Fifa that I am here,” he told Channel 4 News.

“If Fifa would have a little bit of respect knowing I have an official invitation to come here, they should have added an additional invitation to me, by saying, ‘OK, if you are coming on an official invitation, please be also our guest’, this would be the respect.”

It was Blatter’s first high-profile public appearance since that scandal in 2015, and here his old pal Putin had given him a global platform, one he didn’t deserve, to try to sway public opinion.

“I have done nothing wrong, tell me what I have done wrong,” Blatter told Channel 4 News. “If you are a judge, I would be happy now if they terminated this matter in the Swiss justice, and they will do it.”

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It was a chance to give his image a makeover, just like Blatter enabled Putin to do with Russia by awarding him the World Cup.

Good thing he has stayed true to form in his time away from the cameras – Blatter is still a bumbling buffoon, and bungled most of his answers in the Channel 4 interview when repeatedly pressed about the allegations he is facing.

Insisting he is not corrupt, Blatter talked whimsically about his warm reception in Moscow.

“I had the impression it was my World Cup … that time has not stopped since I went to the last one in Brazil,” he said, smiling.

It was classic narcissism from Blatter, something we have not missed since his departure from Fifa, but Infantino is cut from the same self-obsessed cloth.

Thankfully, Blatter will be gone by the end of the week, and can stop pretending the World Cup is all about him.

Then we can get back to the games – until Putin pipes up to pat himself on the back again.