KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH —- All the scandals, arrests, dawn raids, corruption charges, controversies, complaints and media pressure had their effect. Sepp Blatter remains president of FIFA but the 79-year-old Swiss administrator failed to land a first-round knockout blow on challenger Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan.
Blatter had been confident – until the events of Wednesday – of securing the essential minimum of two-thirds of the 209 votes but when the numbers came up he had secured ‘only’ 133 with Prince Ali on 73 and three votes spoiled. That left Blatter seven votes short of victory. However, rather than force a second round with one inevitable result, Prince Ali took to the stage again to announce his withdrawal.
Once European president Michel Platini had decided to stick by a long-time insistence never to run against his one-time mentor, Blatter had always been overwhelming favourite.
Much of the outside world will find it difficult. if not impossible, to understand Blatter’s popularity.
However the majority of FIFA members are not rich western countries but struggling nations in the developing world for whom grants from the world federation’s development funds are invaluable in helping provide simple infrastructure projects which would be counted as a given in the uncomprehending first world.
Blatter was brought into FIFA in 1975 – when the organisation had only 11 employees – specifically to work on development. This remained the central focus of his progress up the ladder to general secretary to chief executive and to president in 1998. It provided him with an unmatchable network and an ocean of loyal gratitude.
Prince Ali, a member of the FIFA executive committee since 2011 until stepping down today, had proved a progressive influence whose will for greater transparency went down badly among the established and long-serving ‘old guard’ in the governing council of the world game.
Blatter, who had originally helped bring Prince Ali into the exco, also ultimately found the Jordanian’s demand for transparency and clarity too difficult to stomach. Prince Ali also fell foul of the Bahraini Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa who took over as president of the Asian confederation two years ago.
Hence, under the influence of Sheikh Salman and the Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, much of Prince Ali’s original support within the AFC ran away to Blatter.
The vast majority of his votes thus came from Europe though UEFA was not unanimous. Spain, Russia and France were all thought to have lined up behind Blatter.
Most of the world’s headlines this week focused on dawn raids by police, arrests and corruption charges but they moved few voters.
As United States federation president Sunil Gulati, a FIFA exco member and supporter of Prince Ali, noted earlier this week: “What’s happening on the ground here is certainly very different than what may be viewed from the outside.”