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Sepp Blatter served 17 years (1998-2015) as the president of FIFA, which is in a perpetual battle with the International Olympic Committee for the title of most corrupt sports governing body in the world.
He once managed to get reelected even after 14 executives and associates were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on charges of racketeering stemming from an alleged widespread culture of bribery and kickbacks, often involving votes for World Cup hosting privileges. Many were hauled by Swiss authorities out of their plush hotel beds at swanky Zurich hotels during a FIFA convention.
When Blatter eventually resigned in disgrace, he had the temerity to declare: “FIFA needs a profound restructuring.”
No kidding? Of course it did and of course it still does, but maybe Blatter could have worked on that during his nearly two decades in charge.
This is Sepp Blatter though, the phoniest of phonies.
This is the guy who oversaw so many backhanded deals that the World Cup is set to be staged in November and December — upsetting professional calendars and challenging viewership habits — because under extremely suspicious circumstances, and leading to tragic consequences, Qatar somehow won the 2022 bid.
Blatter, now 86, regrets that too.
“It was a bad choice and I was responsible for that as president at the time,” he said.
You could say it’s better late than never to make an obvious declaration, but this is how men such as Blatter try to (sort of) clear their conscience. It was a bad choice, then, now and always. It was also a ridiculous one, with the United States, among other countries, ready and willing to handle the duties.
Instead it went to a small oil country with a pathetic human rights record, a history of surveillance crackdowns, a deathly problem with migrant labor and a climate that has turned this entire thing into something unfortunate.
Injuries have banished numerous top players. National teams have little time to train into form. Fans are fearful of having their every move tracked. In the U.S., at least, the event will struggle for attention against the NFL and college football.
And perhaps only someone with the moral compass of a FIFA executive could sit in one of the new shiny stadiums and not wonder how many Nepalese laborers died while constructing the thing. The truth? No one will ever know.
Blatter doesn’t seem to care too much about that though. He’s anti-Qatar now because it’s “too small.”
In 2010, Qatar’s unexpected 14-8 final vote victory over the U.S. was suspicious at the time and has only grown worse.
It had no viable argument other than the World Cup had never been held in the Middle East. There were reasons for that, however, and not just that summer temperatures can climb to 130 degrees.
“Thanks to the four votes of [former UEFA chief Michael] Platini and his team, the World Cup went to Qatar rather than the United States,” Blatter told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger on Tuesday. “It is the truth.”
Blatter went on to say that then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy had summoned Platini, a legendary player from the country, and told him to, “see what you and your colleagues from UEFA can do for Qatar when the World Cup is awarded.”
Just like that, Qatar was in and the U.S. was out.
“But of course it was also about money,” Blatter said. “Six months later, Qatar bought fighter jets from the French for $14.6 billion.”
That’s some classic FIFA, and by no means was it the only side deal that influenced anything. Both Blatter and Platini have been investigated and sanctioned, even banished at one point from football altogether.
Almost nothing was legit at FIFA under Blatter’s reign and anyone paying attention knew it. This mostly worthless international governing body has its hands on the most popular sport on Earth and can shake down almost anyone, anywhere.
The World Cup is the crown jewel, of course. And like the Olympics, as desperate countries often led by despot leaders sought to host the games in an effort to project well on the international scene — or allow government funds to funnel to preferred contractors who then sent a little back to the politicians — FIFA officials played along.
The World Cup has been in Brazil, where it left a trail of white elephant stadiums. It has been in Russia, where Vladimir Putin used it to burnish his reputation and power.
“Putin is no longer the person I met then,” Blatter said, noting he condemns the current invasion of Ukraine.
Actually, he is the exact same person. Blatter just never cared back then.
Now it’s Qatar, with its social views out of the 1400s.
It’s a beautiful game, they like to say about soccer, but it’s always been an ugly business and no one knows that more than Sepp Blatter, the former chief who oversaw it all and now apparently is trying to find religion.
A mistake? Yeah, no kidding. And an avoidable one, no matter how many billions were getting spread around.