Say this for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: His policies have yet to kill thousands of construction workers.
Nor has he handed a Super Bowl to a dictator prone to “intervening in” (translation: invading) his neighbors.
Nor has he spent millions on a movie in which he’s portrayed by Tim Roth.
All these things have occurred during the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) presidency of Joseph “Sepp” Blatter.
This rundown will not address the rampant allegations of bribery and general financial corruption leveled against Blatter and his underlings—in the spotlight this week after a 24-year corruption probe has nine current or former FIFA officials facing extradition to the U.S. Quite frankly, there isn’t space.
It will, however, seek to give a better sense of the 79-year-old who, despite huge numbers of key supporters being arrested this week, is still favored to be reelected for a fifth four-year term Friday. (Or, barring that, postpone the election until it’s more winnable.)
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Sepp!
1998: At 62, this Swiss native who has served as FIFA General Secretary since 1981, seeks to become FIFA President and succeed João Havelange, an 81-year-old Brazilian who’s held the office for 24 years. To the surprise of no one, Havelange decides Lennart Johansson (who promises to hire an independent accountant to look into FIFA’s business practices) isn’t as strong a candidate as Blatter (who says everything seems cool to him). Blatter wins his first of many presidential elections.
1999: Investigative reporter David Yallop’s How They Stole the Game alleges that 20 supporters of Blatter each received $50,000 in cash for their presidential votes. Determined to maintain FIFA’s integrity, Blatter immediately launches an investigation of the allegations. Just kidding: Reasoning that “I cannot open an inquiry into myself”, Sepp attempts to get the book banned.
Asked how to increase the popularity of the women’s game, Blatter suggests hot pants: “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.”
2002: Blatter faces reelection for the first time. Already a pattern has been established of opponents charging him with corruption and Blatter either ignoring the complaints or offering explanations that are, quite frankly, Christ-like. Here’s a sample response to a bribery allegation: “He said to me, with tears in his eyes, that he was a poor devil and had nothing left. So I gave him $25,000 of my own money. I’m too good a person.” Blatter’s goodness is rewarded with reelection. He announces he will begin seeking a suitable next president in 2004 and retire in 2006.
2004: As FIFA celebrates its 100th anniversary, Blatter starts his successor search. He also demonstrates he’s not only interested in the men’s game. Asked what could be done to increase the popularity of women’s soccer, he suggests hot pants: “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball.” More specifically: “They could, for example, have tighter shorts.”
2006-2007: Deciding the only logical path to the future is a 70-year-old man who’s already worked for FIFA for over 30 years, Blatter forgets his successor plan and again seeks reelection. He wins a third term, an accomplishment made slightly less impressive by the fact he’s running unopposed.
2010: Blatter announces the winners of the “FIFA Executive Committee’s secret vote”: Russia will host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar will host the World Cup in 2022. Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani declares, “You will be proud of us”, while Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shulalov vows, “You have entrusted us with the FIFA World Cup for 2018 and I can promise that you will never regret it.”
Will these words soon ring tragically false? Keep reading…
The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that Qatar’s 2022 World Cup will kill a total of 4,000 workers. Is this figure high? Possibly. Will the figure still be horrifying? You bet.
2011: Blatter is elected to a fourth term, again promising it will be his last. Asked about allegations of players using racial slurs in England, he clarifies, “There is no racism”, solving racism forever. In completely unrelated news, black players throughout Europe report an increase in the racial abuse they experience during his tenure, notably with incidents of fans throwing bananas on the field.
2013: What happens when people toil for endless hours building stadiums in temperatures that can top 120 degrees Fahrenheit? Very often, they die. They die in frightening numbers, as a report commissioned by Qatar acknowledges 964 guest worker deaths in 2012 and 2013. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that Qatar’s 2022 World Cup will kill a total of 4,000 workers. Is this figure high? Possibly. Will the figure still be horrifying? You bet.
2014: Given a chance to show off their hosting skills, Russia prepares for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics by passing aggressively anti-gay legislation (when questioned, Vladimir Putin insists it is for “the children”). Then they put on the most expensive Olympics ever with a $51 billion tab—exceeding their original cost estimate of $12 billion by just a little—which still features doors that are best opened by punching them. Your 2018 World Cup host closes the year in style by flirting with full-on warfare with the Ukraine.
On a lighter note, the movie United Passions premieres at Cannes. A propagandized history of the Association, it stars Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter and comes with a low, low price of roughly $27 million invested by FIFA. (And a low, low current rating of 3.1 from IMDb.) One line from the trailer (below) that is hilariously accurate? “Blatter… is apparently good at finding money.”
2015: Now 79, Blatter has been FIFA President for 17 years, but hey, his predecessor held the job for 24 so we may be just getting started here. Widespread arrests in the organization aside, he insists there is no need to re-vote the 2018 and 2022 Cups.
And despite being called “a disgrace and a painful embarrassment” by Argentine legend Diego Maradona—incidentally, Maradona was more cocaine than man for much of his life, so if he thinks you’re a painful embarrassment…—Blatter himself has maintained his usual calm: “I am a mountain goat that keeps going and going and going, I cannot be stopped, I just keep going.”
UPDATE: And… Blatter won reelection Friday. And then resigned today. Hooray for democracy!