Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

Sepp Blatter

Imagine having U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's job—with the only difference being that member countries care more viscerally about the decisions you make. Joseph (Sepp) Blatter, 68, the president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), rules over the globe's most popular sport and its unruly passions. Soccer is often called "the simple game" or the "beautiful game," but its administration is neither. FIFA deals with issues ranging from wars, riots, corruption and citizenship to the proper application of the offside rule. And that was just last Sunday. FIFA's top spot is easily one of the world's most influential nongovernmental jobs—and you get tickets to all the best games.

Blatter fits well into this turbulent mixture, having recently emerged a winner in a nasty internecine battle in which opponents accused him of buying influence and burying big losses related to a botched marketing deal. (Swiss authorities found no wrongdoing.) He then had beat back an election challenge by African soccer supremo Issa Hayatou. "Just after the elections, I felt bitter," said Blatter, "but we have to look forward and be optimistic. They lost the power game."

FIFA's principal business is running the World Cup tournament, which will be next staged in 2006. Germany edged South Africa for the privilege. African nations felt dissed. South Americans are unhappy about the number of spots they get in the tourney. In Europe, the big pro clubs, such as Inter Milan, are demanding money for loaning their pricey players to national teams for qualifying rounds. In other words, soccer is back to business as usual, with Sepp in charge.

From the Archive
The Money Game: Even as football's cup runneth over, there is a growing sense of unease among fans that riches may ruin their sport