Leading figures from European football insisted last night that Sepp Blatter could not possibly last as president of Fifa – after most of the rest of the world resoundingly re-elected him for four more years. With Fifa’s top executives still locked up in detention centres all over town, football’s world governing body gave Mr Blatter a standing ovation.
“I’m not perfect,” he said, as the room erupted in applause. “Nobody’s perfect. I like you. I like my job. I like to be with you. I take the responsibility to bring back Fifa.”
It had been a long few days for Fifa’s embattled president, and for once his favoured nautical metaphors failed him. “We will bring it back off-shore, back to the beach, football can be played, beach soccer,” he said, inexplicably evoking images of the tax-haven slush funds at the centre of the corruption scandal that has brought his organisation into such disrepute.
Never one for humility, he thanked the deities of major world religions for their support. “I am a faithful man. God, Allah, or whatever spirit it is in the world that we believe [in], they will help us to bring back Fifa. I will do it with you.”
Returning to the stage a few minutes later, Mr Blatter appeared drunk on victory. “I was a little bit nervous today, but now I am the president of everybody. I am the president of the whole Fifa. This game is important, but more important [is to] enjoy life.”
Mr Blatter secured 133 to Prince Ali bin al-Hussein’s 73 in the first round. The Swiss was three votes short of the two-thirds majority required for a first-round win, but the Jordanian Prince – backed by Uefa – was quick to concede defeat, adding darkly that he didn’t want the “brave” associations who voted for him “to be in any more trouble”.
In the UK, the FA did its hand-wringing, issued its threat of a World Cup boycott that would never be tolerated by the fans, and the Prime Minister issued his platitudes. Greg Dyke, the Football Association chairman, said he would be “very surprised” if Mr Blatter was still Fifa president in two years. “This is not over by any means. To quote the [US] Attorney General this is the beginning of the process, not the end,” he said. “The idea Blatter could reform Fifa is suspect. I’d be very surprised if he was still in this job in two years’ time.”
The Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, John Whittingdale, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that when presented with overwhelming demands for change, many Fifa members still opted for the status quo – for a president who’s overseen an organisation tainted with accusations of corruption.”
He added that the UK would “do everything in its power” to support those trying to change Fifa and hoped their efforts would not be “blocked and frustrated by vested interests”.
Former Manchester United chief executive David Gill, elected Fifa vice-chairman in March, reiterated his pledge to resign on Mr Blatter’s re-election in a message to The Independent but did not respond when asked if had actually quit. He would be expected to attend an emergency Fifa executive committee meeting today, but has said he will stay away.
Luis Figo, the ex-Portugal international who withdrew his candidacy for Fifa president last week, was scathing. “This vote has only served to endorse the election of a man who can’t remain in charge of world football. Mr Blatter … being re-elected – that shows exactly how the organisation is sick,” he said.
“Today was another dark day in Zurich. Fifa has lost, but above everything, football has lost and everyone who truly cares about it has lost too.
“If he has a modicum of decency, he will resign in the next few days.”
And John Delaney, chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, said: “I still think this is the beginning of the end of Sepp Blatter. I don’t see him seeing his four years out – the momentum is too great.”
Michel Platini, president of the European football governing body Uefa, who had urged Mr Blatter to quit, praised Prince Ali. “I am proud that Uefa has defended and supported a movement for change at Fifa – change which, in my opinion, is crucial if this organisation is to regain its credibility,” he said.
But when you take the unimaginable wealth of football, generated in the most part by European clubs and American companies, and spread it out into every imaginable corner of the planet – as Mr Blatter did – don’t expect those on the margins to start spreading back the other way.
Welcome to the Seppocracy. It is noble in its way, this organisation that, for one day a year when it meets for its Congress, has the outward appearance of democracy. The cavernous chamber, the flag of every nation hanging from the ceiling. From Germany to Guam, one member, one vote. All nations are equal, with spits of sand in the Pacific and tiny African kingdoms finally holding sway over the great European powers.
But the crucial innovation of the Seppocracy – its parliament – has no constituents. That link of accountability between ruler and subject has been purposely severed. The name of Fifa and its president is a joke on every last football terrace in the world, but it can make no difference. Fifa, with its lunches, private planes and five-star hotels, comes without representation.
So on we go. The “change that starts tomorrow”, as Mr Blatter has promised, will appear exactly the same as it has for the past 17 years, and will in the coming weeks and months be re-engulfed by the next stages of the twin criminal investigations against it.
In the seven years until the artificial spectacle that the Qatari World Cup most certainly will be, we will just have to get on with counting the bodies of the migrant workers building the stadiums.
Votes won by Sepp Blatter in the first round
Votes for Prince Ali bin al-Hussein
THE PITCHES BLATTER VS ALI
“We don’t need revolutions, but we always need evolutions. Yesterday and the day before and even today I am being held accountable for the current storm…
“I’ll accept this responsibility and I want to fix Fifa together with you.
“I want to do it now and tomorrow and the day after and the weeks and months to come, so that at the end of my term of office, I’ll be able to hand over a solid Fifa…
“A Fifa that’s integrated and a part of our society, a Fifa that will have enough safeguards to not need the political interventions anywhere they will come from.”
“There is no royalty in football. My name is Ali. I am one of you…
“The eyes of the world are upon us… Listen to your conscience and listen to your hearts… There are no easy answers and no blame that can be cast that will wash away the stain that marks us all. Today is about the first step towards a process of change – a new dawn to break through the darkness…
Our rehabilitation in public perception will only come through the actions and work of all of us, together, pulling in the same direction, for the good of the sport, and for Fifa.”