The key to Fifa president-under-suspension Sepp Blatter’s sliding fortunes has been the changing attitude of the organisation’s Ethics Committee (EthCo). In June, journalist Andrew Jennings could, without fear of contradiction or legal repercussion, reference Blatter’s “hand-picked Ethics Committee who obey his instructions.” Five months later, the EthCo appears ready to finish Blatter’s Fifa career in disgrace and completely, with its reported calls for life bans from football for he and (this week) comrade-in-arms, Uefa president-under-suspension Michel Platini.
In such desperate circumstances, Blatter’s media circus continues apace. There was a terrific Financial Times newspaper article The Fall of the House of Blatter, by recent Blatter lunch date Malcolm Moore and colleague Ralph Atkins. Blatter’s latest interview on Swiss broadcaster RTS. And that peak of media scrutiny, a Channel 5 TV documentary: Sepp Blatter Exposed – the fall of Fifa (SBE). The FT focused on how Fifa has dealt with the fall-out from the May 27th arrests of seven senior officials in Zurich. The most notable strategy was to portray itself as a “victim,” a theory which may not cut even a single cube of ice with the public but is backed by United States courts’ issue of four “victim notices” to Fifa, notices that they are what the FT called “injured parties in upcoming cases.”
This suits the state of denial in which many senior Fifa figures have been since May. When Fifa’s US-based legal advisors Quinn Emmanuel gave a presentation to the executive committee (ExCo) in July, stressing Fifa’s need to positively claim “victim status,” Blatter reportedly responded: ”We have nothing to worry about, we are victims.” On RTS, Blatter tried to claim near-ultimate victimhood, that he was “close to dying” when an as-yet-unspecified stress-related illness landed him in a Zurich hospital for six early-November days. “I was between the angels who sing and the devil who lights the fire,” said the Roman Catholic suspendee, adding: “But it was the angels who sang,” something of a shock result, you might think.
He also revealed what he thought of Platini this week. In comments which you hope, even at this late stage, have lost something in translation, he called Platini “an honest man” who “if he comes back” will “be elected and then (if) he comes back, I will return too.” Comeback hints peppered Channel 5’s foray into Fifa-world. SBE was probably the best documentary I’ve ever seen on Channel 5, which is not as much damnation by faint praise as it could have been. Its last “revelation” was that Blatter’s “new plan” for maintaining Fifa power and influence was to become “honorary” president. Blatter’s predecessor, Brazilian lizard stunt-double Joao Havelange, fulfilled the role from 1998 to 2013. But his influence on Blatter was established long before 1998. Blatter has been Havelange Mark II, only more so. And he could easily make more, and therefore more damaging, use of the role.
SBE had an impressive cast-list. The afore-mentioned Moore, Heidi Blake, co-author of what is already the seminal work on the 2022 World Cup bidding process, The Ugly Game and Blatter’s ultra-obsequious spokesman Klaus Stoehlker all contributed fascinatingly, in their own way. Less so former England players Peter Shilton and Sol Campbell, plus various England fans and Sunday League players. But between the other interviewees and good use of archive footage, SBE presented the story so far in straightforward but properly thorough fashion, with a few gems thrown in, particularly (inevitably?) by Stoehlker.
Blatter, he said, was “a wonderful man because he loves people,” a phrase mischievously placed over footage of Blatter greeting Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe. “He loves women,” Stoehlker added, something glossed over consistently down the years (apart from Andrew Jennings in Foul, natch). And no opportunity was missed to illustrate matters with an embarrassing Blatter photograph. The only discordant note was the credibility afforded Blatter’s remarks about awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and the US respectively. SBE parroted the narrative that Platini loused up the plan by voting for Qatar. The known voting figures and The Ugly Game’s chronicle of the Qatar campaign (public and private) give lie to this “revelation,” made while Platini was off Blatter’s Christmas card list.
Of course, Blatter’s documentary/interview musings are characteristically devoid of all credibility and are only worth recording in case he inadvertently lets a truth slip out. This was evident from his curiously-toned contribution to Played, a curiously-toned ABC Australia TV documentary on Australia’s failed 2022 bid, which aired last week. The hour-long programme promised revelations on the “real” reasons behind Australia’s ONE vote for its bid (yep, worse than England) and questions on where the Australian government grant of A$45m went, especially as some of it appeared to reach the repugnant Jack Warner. It didn’t quite deliver on that. However, in an undated but recent-looking contribution, Blatter insisted that “my daughter” (who lives in Australia) “would never forgive me if I hadn’t voted Australia.” As Played noted, both Blatter and currently-under-fire German football legend Franz Beckanbauer claimed to be Australia’s one vote. And if Blatter’s masterplan was for America to host the 2022 event…well…he’s lying somewhere. I wonder if his daughter has forgiven him.
It has been a week of matching downward fortunes for Blatter and Platini. On Wednesday November 18th, their appeals against their 90-day suspension from all football activities (except oddball interviews) were “totally rejected.” This was strong enough language for Fifa’s own website, so often a Blatter mouthpiece over the years, to be interpreted as Fifa’s Appeals Committee giving them a collective “LMAO.” Last Saturday, the EthCo’s investigatory chamber announced that it had “submitted its final reports containing requests for sanctions against (Blatter and Platini) to the adjudicatory chamber chaired by Hans-Joachim Eckert.” Eckert’s chamber said they would “study the reports carefully and decide in due course about whether to institute formal adjudicatory proceedings.”
On Monday it was announced that they had “today opened formal adjudicatory proceedings against (Blatter and Platini) based on the final reports submitted by the investigatory chamber” and that they intend “to come to a decision in both cases during…December.” So this “careful study” took all of one day. A Sunday. If Blatter picked up on this haste on God’s day of rest, it might have fuelled his sense of injustice, betrayal, witch-hunts etc… Not that he needed the fuel. The ever-faithful Stoehlker quickly piped up with: “Mr Blatter was elected by the FIFA congress and only the congress can remove his power.” And Blatter, forgetting for far from the first time that he is not head of an actual state, told RTS: “If one wants to revoke an elected president, only parliament can ask for that. “The definition in the statutes…says I’m not a FIFA official. I’m the elected president of the Congress. If one does not agree with the way I do my job, one has to turn to the congress that elected me,” he explained. “The same 209 member nations to whom he has previously dispensed “bonuses” like a crazed gameshow host,” tweeted the Guardian newspaper’s Owen Gibson, pertinently.
This Wednesday, the EthCo rubbished Stoehlker’s suggestions that Blatter had not been formally told of any recommended sanctions and dismissed all notions that they lacked authority. An investigatory chamber spokesman said: “Everybody is covered by the same code of ethics and by the statutes and there is no exemption for anyone whatsoever from this rule.” And guess what? They were right. The “definition in the statutes” does not say the president is “not a Fifa official.” Indeed, the statutes look ripe for destruction if ever legally challenged (go to it, Sepp). They include “every board member” and “committee member” within their definition of “official.” The president is one of the executive committee’s “25 members.” Ergo, he is an “official.” And Fifa’s Ethics Code, according to its “Persons Covered” section, applies “to all officials.” Ergo, it applies to the president.
Blatter may have been trying to differentiate between appointed officials (e.g. the Secretary-General) and elected ones (e.g. the president). Neither the statutes nor the code make that distinction. In its “conflicts of interest” section, the code references “elected or appointed persons bound by this code.” Oh… but they state that the president is “primarily responsible for…relations between Fifa and the Confederations,” which holes Blatter’s claims that Confederation officials indicted in May were not his responsibility because they were not elected by “his people.” If Stoehlker really wants to help the cause, he would do well to advise Blatter of this.
Platini’s lawyer Thibaut D’Ales tried a different tack, calling his potential life ban “clearly a disproportionate punishment” and intriguingly adding: “There is clearly a desire to harm. The masks are slipping one by one in Fifa…there is a strategy to eliminate Platini as a candidate.” Cynical observers might imagine Blatter thinking: “That was the plan.” Except Blatter wasn’t supposed to be, as SBE noted: “suspended by the Ethics Committee that he himself created.” He certainly wasn’t expecting it. He told Zurich news agency Sportsinformation: “As a good Christian, (as if anyone could possibly doubt that…er…), I have to say that what the Ethics Committee is doing with me, it’s like an inquisition.” And no-one…well, you know…
That Blatter still believes he has a Fifa future is perhaps simply trademark delusion. But nothing he has said recently assuages the worry that honorary president Blatter would wield genuine influence, given the Blatter-ite nature of the current presidential field. Or, worse, that the “honorary” bit is just Blatter’s fall-back position and that picking up the mandate he laid down in June remains his goal. The Ethco’s work is by no means done.
Next up: All the non-Blatter stuff. And, yes, there’s been plenty of that. Including Jack Warner, you’ll not be shocked to learn.
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