Almighty at FIFA and joyful IOC member for years, Joseph Blatter’s slow decline at 85 years old

Blatter, who for 17 years enjoyed the FIFA presidency with an almost playful approach that no other man in office would show before or since, has insisted for years that he committed no crime.

Joseph Blatter and Michel Platini in the days when they ruled world soccer / EFE/EPA/PATRICK B. KRAEMER
Joseph Blatter and Michel Platini in the days when they ruled world soccer / EFE/EPA/PATRICK B. KRAEMER

“Mr. Blatter, celebrate the fact that you are still with us.”

Joseph Blatter heard the phrase earlier this year, after spending a week in an induced coma due to a heart operation in which complications arose. The phrase came from one of his doctors. Understandable: the patient is 85 years old. He needed rehabilitation therapy to be able to walk on his own again.

A few months later, this week, the former FIFA president and former member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) heard another sentence, but this time from the Swiss Justice.

“The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) accuses Joseph Blatter of fraud, in the alternative of misappropriation, in the further alternative of criminal mismanagement, as well as of forgery of a document.”

Michel Platini, once his friend, and from whom he is now very distant, heard the same thing. The penalty for the offenses detailed by the OAG is up to five years in prison for the former FIFA boss and the former UEFA president, who was above all a brilliant footballer.

Blatter, who for 17 years enjoyed the FIFA presidency with an almost playful approach that no other man in office would show before or since, has insisted for years that he committed no crime. Two years ago, during a long conversation in Zurich with the author of this text for an interview in Infobae, he exhibited a philosophical side, although not innocent, because it served him to attack the Swiss Justice.

“I am very especially interested in humanists and philosophers who did not write, but who had a great influence. Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Mohammed, Jesus... And they all have something in common: they tell us that we are angels of peace, that we should be as kind to others as we want others to be to us. And something else: let us not judge, we are not judges. Confucius said something else that is very interesting: if you were once a horse, don’t become a donkey”.

The “don’t judge” was clearly intended for the Swiss Federal Tribunal that has in its hands the case of alleged corruption in the choice of Qatar 2022 as host. And not turning into a donkey sounded almost like a failed act: he was a horse, an imposing steed despite his short height, for a good part of his life. And it is Gianni Infantino who today, from the FIFA presidency, treats him as if he were a donkey. And that hurts Blatter’s soul. He does not intend to forget or forgive.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a picture after being re-elected by acclamation for a second term at the 69th FIFA Congress at Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles in Paris on June 5, 2019 - The 49 year-old, who took charge of FIFA in February 2016 after the departure of the disgraced Sepp Blatter, stood unopposed for re-election for a new four-year term which will run until 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a picture after being re-elected by acclamation for a second term at the 69th FIFA Congress at Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles in Paris on June 5, 2019 - The 49 year-old, who took charge of FIFA in February 2016 after the departure of the disgraced Sepp Blatter, stood unopposed for re-election for a new four-year term which will run until 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

“Soccer cannot interfere in politics, it must remain free of political influence. It is true, yes, that this is not always possible, and I experienced it myself on December 2, 2010, with the political influence for the choice of the host of the 2022 World Cup”.

- You are referring to France...

- I am referring to Platini and the French head of state. I accept that soccer is a player in the game of politics - a player! But soccer cannot run politics. The new president believes that soccer is a kind of world director, because he sees soccer as the greatest power in the world. He believes that! And now he’s into this idea that soccer, that FIFA should be treated at the same level as a United Nations organization, like the World Trade Organization or the World Health Organization.

- Infantino said at the Paris 2019 congress that this is the new FIFA: an organization without scandals and invited to the G-20.

- That’s right, that’s what he said.

- Someone might say to you, “all well and good, Mr. Blatter, but when you were president you wanted the Nobel Peace Prize”.

- I wanted it, but not for me, for FIFA as an institution.

- You didn’t want it?

- No, I wanted it for FIFA.

- If they gave it to FIFA, you would have been the one to receive it on a grandiose stage?

- I’m sure it would have been. We worked together with the Nobel Foundation. We had a plan, that in 2010 a World Cup venue would be chosen in Europe, in Russia, and another one for the United States. Handshake for peace, that was our slogan... That was the plan, and that plan was destroyed with that lunch in Paris.

- That was the reason, the lunch in Paris between Nicolas Sarkozy, Michel Platini and...?

- The then heir to the throne of Qatar, who is today the emir: Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.

Blatter distanced himself from Platini, or Platini from Blatter, in the end it’s almost the same thing.

“I have had no contact with him, because he cut off contact. He was convinced that I leaked the famous payment of two million Swiss francs to the Swiss federal prosecutor’s office. That’s nonsense, I wouldn’t want to shoot myself in the foot either.”

FIFA President Sepp Blatter (R) arrives with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach for the opening ceremony of the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 28, 2015. FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on May 28 that the scandal-tainted football body faces "more bad news" and that officials accused of corruption had brought shame and humiliation on the organisation. But the 79-year-old Swiss official told the opening of FIFA's annual congress he could not be blamed for the latest controversy to hit the body saying he could not "monitor" every official. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter (R) arrives with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach for the opening ceremony of the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 28, 2015. FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on May 28 that the scandal-tainted football body faces "more bad news" and that officials accused of corruption had brought shame and humiliation on the organisation. But the 79-year-old Swiss official told the opening of FIFA's annual congress he could not be blamed for the latest controversy to hit the body saying he could not "monitor" every official. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

For much of his years as FIFA president, Blatter was a reasonably active member of the IOC. Being part of that club flattered him, he liked it. He was aware that, as head of world soccer, he had the same status as Jacques Rogge or Thomas Bach, but he was not afraid to take part in IOC rituals and meetings between 1999 and 2015, when he was part of the very exclusive club that is the IOC.

The situation is different today with Infantino’s plan to hold a World Cup every two years, a plan that the current FIFA president never discussed with Bach before launching it with great fanfare.

Blatter has Infantino choked. He had it in 2019 and still has it today.

“I should not be the one to evaluate my successor. But I would have expected more respect and fair play from him, also that he would keep his word. After all, he promised me that he would take care of the outstanding problems. What I want from FIFA, first and foremost, is that it corrects the reports that hurt my honor and restores my name.”

KEEP READING: