After Brazil, Blatter focuses on FIFA election
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — When Brazil’s football fans finally got their best chance to see Sepp Blatter at the World Cup, they had a message for him.
It was not a nice one for the FIFA President at his fifth final as head of football’s governing body.
Jeers and whistles rained down on Blatter and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff before and during the trophy presentation at the Maracana Stadium.
Happily for Blatter, however, he could enjoy a sixth World Cup final as president in 2018 in Russia if he wins re-election next May.
Blatter mostly stayed out of view here during the 32-day tournament, making few public appearances and being kept off stadium giant screens at the 18 matches he attended.
“I have not been hiding,” Blatter told reporters at a reception Friday in Rio de Janeiro, hosted by Russian World Cup organizers. “I have just not been speaking too much.”
There was nowhere to hide Sunday with World Cup protocol requiring Blatter and Rousseff jointly give the gold trophy to German captain Philipp Lahm after a 1-0 win over Argentina.
In fairness to Blatter, most derision seemed aimed at Rousseff, who also faces an election within months.
He is also more popular among football leaders than football fans, and many voters share his desire to extend a presidency that began in June 1998.
“I’ll be honest with you it still burns, it still burns stronger than ever to go forwards,” Blatter told delegates from the CONCACAF region on June 10, two days before the tournament kickoff.
The success of a World Cup in Brazil that beat all expectations — better organized, better football on the pitch, fewer protests on the streets — was unlikely to weigh heavily on Blatter’s election chances.
Since Brazil was awarded hosting rights in 2007, as the only candidate, Blatter delegated responsibility and tough questions during troubled preparations to his secretary general, Jerome Valcke.
Still, Blatter can share in the satisfaction of a job well done. That will be expressed Monday at Maracana during his first news conference since the World Cup began.
Blatter’s tournament has been a private pleasure in a football-loving country. FIFA is unpopular in Brazil and typically seen as arriving with aggressive demands, then leaving without paying tax.
He has had limited direct contact with Brazilian people. Appearances at a sports seminar and opening a FIFA community project in Rio de Janeiro were vetted for attendance.
FIFA denied instructing its television production team to keep Blatter out of shot, though it did help avoid the jeers he and Rousseff faced during the Confederations Cup opening ceremony in Brasilia last year.
When Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel watched her national team beat Portugal 4-0 in Salvador on June 16, she was framed in TV pictures with two men sitting to her left, rather than Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini at her right.
On Tuesday, Blatter will fly home to Switzerland and resume election strategizing, nurturing his supporters among 209 FIFA voting federations and needling perceived rivals.
His column for FIFA’s online magazine The Weekly on July 4 was typical.
After the Asian Football Confederation’s poor World Cup — zero victories in 12 matches for its four teams — Blatter suggested its 46 FIFA member nations were “treated with such disdain” and should seek more places at future tournaments.
“We need a new deal, preferably sooner rather than later,” Blatter wrote, in a clear jibe at UEFA (53 FIFA members, 13 World Cup places) and Platini.
Baiting his former protege is a regular tactic. In a FIFA video interview released after the group stage, Blatter “revealed” that Platini will have goal-line cameras at the 2016 European Championship. UEFA has made no such decision.
The strategy appears to be: Dissuade Platini from seeking the top job, and persuade voters not to support the former France great.
After a quiet few weeks for Blatter — attending the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada and the Youth Summer Olympics in Nanjing, China — August 29 is a key date.
Then, at the Champions League draw event in Monaco, Platini should announce if he will be a FIFA presidential candidate.
Even if Platini decides against challenging his mentor, UEFA will likely support another candidate by the January deadline to declare.
That seemed assured after a volatile UEFA meeting in Sao Paulo last month when European officials urged Blatter to step aside in 2015.
Netherlands federation president Michael van Praag told Blatter that FIFA was a byword for corruption and “people tend not to take you seriously anymore.”
“That was the most disrespectful thing I have experienced in my entire life,” Blatter told reporters after the FIFA Congress on June 11 when he last addressed media.
Hours earlier, Blatter had delighted most FIFA members by promising $200 million in bonus payments from the near-$4.5 billion World Cup revenues.
“It’s impossible to make everybody happy,” Blatter said in a congress speech to his voters.
A majority still seem happy with their leader.