By Graham Dunbar
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
GENEVA _ FIFA President Sepp Blatter will announce on Friday his candidacy for re-election in a 2015 campaign he is overwhelmingly favoured to win.
No surprise there: Blatter has carefully plotted his path toward formal declaration by many small steps in recent months.
Events this month have perfectly condensed Blatter’s 16-and-counting years atop football’s often storm-tossed world governing body.
A furor is raging over full disclosure of the investigative report detailing possible corruption in the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests won by Russia and Qatar.
Meanwhile, Blatter has been perfectly calm at centre stage, mapping what seems an inevitable fifth-term victory next May.
His formal declaration on Friday, after a two-day executive committee session, will compete for attention at the ensuing news conference for attention.
Personal and political business as usual at Blatter’s FIFA. Here are some things to know about the challenges and scandals of the 78-year-old Swiss official’s reign.
The Qatar vote in December 2010 was the explosive issue of Blatter’s third term, has dominated his fourth, and likely won’t be resolved until his fifth.
Though few, if any, believe Blatter actually voted for Qatar, the bidding contests revealed an unsavoury FIFA culture of entitlement and disregard for the rules which festered on his watch.
The 24-man executive committee in office weeks before the vote is largely discredited by a slew of life bans, resignations in disgrace, and allegations that went unproven, if not entirely disbelieved. More damage could follow around April when FIFA’s ethics judge, Joachim Eckert, should give verdicts on how the board behaved, using evidence provided by ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia.
Though the verdicts _ and almost inevitable appeals _ likely won’t touch Blatter personally, he remains the public face of a FIFA seeming riddled with wrongdoing.
Blatter should also lead talks in deciding if the Eckert-Garcia case justifies re-running the vote _ with the United States ready as a 2022 replacement.
If Qatar remains, Blatter must settle the heat issue. He has publicly committed to uprooting World Cup tradition by kicking off in November, hugely disrupting European football, its hardcore fans, and wealthy, influential clubs.
Blatter and Qatar is a relationship that spans his presidency and almost brought it crashing down.
FIFA lore says Blatter almost lost his first election in 1998 when Qatari powerbroker Mohamed bin Hammam was a key campaigner on his behalf.
Though anointed by his retiring predecessor Joao Havelange, Blatter seemed set to lose to European football’s then-leader Lennart Johansson before intense late lobbying in Paris hotels.
Key votes from African football federations then swung a decisive 111-80 margin for Blatter.
Delegates later talked of envelopes of $50,000 changing hands, and Blatter himself has referred to rumours of vote-buying at the Meridien Montparnasse hotel.
“I will maintain that I was not there so it couldn’t be me,” Blatter told reporters during his 2011 election contest _ against Bin Hammam.
Tired of waiting for Blatter to vacate the presidency, old ally Bin Hammam launched his challenge in the now-notorious 2011 election.
Qatar’s World Cup bidding victory made it and Bin Hammam a rising power for Blatter to fear. So much so, that Blatter promised European voters during the campaign he would certainly stand aside in 2015 if they helped him win.
One month before polling, Blatter pledged $1 million from FIFA funds _ a gift that would be barred today _ at the confederation’s assembly.
The next week, Bin Hammam went to Trinidad for a meeting with Caribbean delegates, who were offered $40,000 cash per country.
The ensuing bribery scandal saw Bin Hamman withdraw days before the vote, ahead of the FIFA’s ethics committee suspending him.
Blatter was re-elected unopposed, and Bin Hammam, who suspected complicity in a plot to entrap him, never returned to FIFA.
CLUMSY WITH KICKBACKS
For 12 years, the kickbacks scandal of FIFA’s former marketing agency partner ISL was a toxic element of Blatter’s presidency.
Eventually, it forced Havelange to resign as FIFA honorary president in April 2013. The Brazilian, who led FIFA for 24 years, and his former son-in-law, got tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks from World Cup commercial deals.
FIFA critics believed the case could bring down Blatter also. As general secretary in March 1997, Blatter returned a 1.5 million Swiss francs (now $1.58 million) payment from ISL to Havelange which mistakenly arrived at FIFA.
But when Eckert’s report was published last year, the German judge ruled only that Blatter’s action “may have been clumsy” but was not misconduct.
The episode reinforces a view of long-time FIFA watchers: While not personally corrupt, Blatter has been pragmatic about the morals of those whose support and votes he has needed.
A majority of the 209 FIFA member associations seem sure to support him again next May.