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Blatter Control: FIFA Head Wins New Term Despite Corruption Probe

A U.S. bribery probe can't bring down the most powerful man in international sports.

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The United States may be trying, but it’s going to take more than charges that FIFA officials illegally handed out more than $150 million in bribes to oust Sepp Blatter from his post as the most powerful man in international sports.

The embattled Swiss national didn’t win the election in Zurich outright: A first round of voting left him seven votes short of the needed 140. But as representatives of soccer-loving nations from around the world prepared to vote a second time, it was clear his challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, was nowhere close to having the support needed to win. Despite backing from the U.S. and most European nations, he conceded after receiving just 73 votes.

This allowed Blatter, who is now serving a fifth term as FIFA president, to continue his reign even as the tentacles of the American legal system begin to tighten around him. The Justice Department appears to be building a mob-style case against him, flipping low-level officials in hopes of then using their testimony to snag higher-ups. Whether they’ll ever get to Blatter remains to be seen.

In his acceptance speech, Blatter, who has shrugged off bribery and match-fixing allegations for years, acknowledged problems within the organization. But he staunchly defended the controversial decisions to hold the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, respectively, even as the Swiss begin to investigate whether FIFA officials were bribed to give those awards. The Russian games have been dogged by widespread allegations of corruption, while the Qatar ones have been clouded by the deaths of hundreds of the migrant workers imported to build the stadiums, and by questions about the wisdom of holding the matches in a country whose temperatures can reach as high as 120 degrees per day in the summer.

“I will not touch the World Cup…. We won’t touch the World Cup,” Blatter said, speaking in English.

The 79-year old Blatter, who has run FIFA in an autocratic style since 1998, owes his victory to FIFA’s strictly egalitarian voting system. Tallies by small footballing nations like Trinidad and Tobago carry as much weight as soccer heavyweights like Germany and Spain. It’s widely believed in soccer circles that Blatter’s support comes from smaller countries, which in turn are well compensated for their support.

Addressing the conference after his victory, Blatter spoke in a conciliatory tone. He said FIFA’s executive committee “needs more ladies.” He said he prayed to “God, Allah or whoever is this extraordinary, whatever it is the spirit in the world we believe” for guidance as he moves FIFA out of its darkest days.

“I’m not perfect. No one is perfect,” he said. “We will do a good job together, I’m sure.” As he prepared to leave the podium he shouted, “Let’s go FIFA.”

Blatter then locked his hands over his head and shook them vigorously, both in defiance and in victory.

Photo credit: Michael-Buholzer/Getty Images

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