Sepp Blatter has mastered the protocols of power in FIFA over a third of a century. When he emerged victorious in the battle for the FIFA presidency in June 1998,2 he had persuaded enough African and European countries to vote for him to fracture the Europe-Africa alliance upon which UEFA president Lennart Johansson’s candidature depended. Blatter’s run-in to the election was masterfully organized, with the support of a Swiss commercial partner and a private jet provided by Qatar. Blatter prospered on the back of his longstanding working partnership with his boss at FIFA, João Havelange, and all of the infrastructure of FIFA that had aided his bid, long before he formally declared himself just a few months before the vote. The circumstances in which so many nations supported Blatter are shrouded in controversy,3 but his campaigning strategy was so effective that he came out of the first ballot with 111 votes to Johansson’s 80. The devastated Swede soon realized that there was little point in proceeding to a second ballot. Havelange, with heavy irony allied to consummate diplomatic skill,

praised the UEFA president as “sportsman, gentleman, leader and friend,” whose “qualities and values” would help the football family enter the next century. Blatter hailed his defeated rival as “a great personality, fair and realistic” and pledged “to unite football” and establish “continuity in the good sense.” “I am a servant of football,” beamed Blatter. “I shall play, live and breathe football,” he said, “I am deeply, deeply touched, deeply, and offer a message of friendship, openness, understanding, a message of solidarity.” Blatter had learned well under Havelange’s tutelage, and he understood football politics in Africa.

While Johansson busied himself working on the hierarchy of the African confederation, Blatter, often accompanied by Havelange, had visited Africa in a private jet, meeting with the representatives of some of the continent’s remotest and poorest countries, making personal contact with the men in the national associations who would be marking the ballot cards in Paris in June. The strategy had worked for Havelange in 1974 and it worked again for Blatter in 1998. Blatter was steeped in the world of international sports politics. He

had business and administration experience as an organizer of the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games. He had headed public relations for a Swiss tourist board in the 1960s, and had been general secretary of the Swiss ice hockey federation. As Director of Sports Timing and Public Relations at Longines, he was noticed by Adidas boss Horst Dassler. Dassler alerted Havelange to Blatter’s qualities, and Havelange brought him into FIFA, where he worked on the implementation of Havelange’s programme, attracting the funding needed from early commercial partners such as Coca-Cola and Adidas itself. Blatter rose quickly through FIFA’s hierarchy, becoming general secretary in 1981, even marrying the former general secretary’s daughter en route to his promotion to the top job in the FIFA administration. It is critical for any informed and adequate understanding of Blatter’s

career to appreciate the scale of his commitment to Horst Dassler. Talking to BBC’s Newsnight in 2002, Blatter insisted that the long-term ISL-FIFA relationship was good for the financial development of world football in the 1980s and into the 1990s, but conceded that “at the end it is not a sweetheart, definitely not, but at the time when they also came in, in television, it was a wonderful partnership for everybody and for the benefit of football, for the benefit of the associations.”4 He worked closely with Dassler himself, and not just Dassler’s company ISL and its associates. When speaking of Dassler, Blatter sounds in awe of his career mentor:

“He was an extraordinary man, a man of courage, of initiative, a visionary, the father of sport sponsoring; a great salesman but also a great diplomat. He always knew how to fix things when there were differences.”5

Blatter was groomed at Adidas’s Landersheim headquarters from August to December 1975, and then joined FIFA as technical director. Dassler and Adidas paid Blatter’s salary in those early days, and provided office space for FIFA’s new technical director. Guido Tognoni, FIFA press officer in the 1990s, confirms: “Blatter was partly paid by Adidas in the early days because FIFA did not have any money. Blatter says that he only had his office in the Adidas office, this was while FIFA was building a new one … it was doubtful, strange, you can also hire your own

office.”6 Not so strange to Blatter: “If we hadn’t had Adidas, and CocaCola … we would never have entered the world of football with such a fantastic programme of development. I will never forget Adidas … without Adidas I think that FIFA would not be where she is today.”7