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FIFA President Sepp Blatter addresses a news conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, June 2, 2015.(Reuters)

For years, nothing could touch Sepp Blatter. Under his 17-year rule, soccer's governing body survived and even thrived through allegations of bribery, vote-buying and World Cup ticket scams. He built a base of support by bolstering the sport in developing countries and brought the first World Cup to Africa.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter addresses a news conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, June 2, 2015.(Reuters)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter addresses a news conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, June 2, 2015.(Reuters)

FIFA President Sepp Blatter addresses a news conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, June 2, 2015.(Reuters)

For years, nothing could touch Sepp Blatter. Under his 17-year rule, soccer's governing body survived and even thrived through allegations of bribery, vote-buying and World Cup ticket scams. He built a base of support by bolstering the sport in developing countries and brought the first World Cup to Africa.

But after a tumultuous week of indictments and investigations, the pressure from all sides made it impossible for the 79-year-old Blatter to survive.

The world's largest soccer nations were in rebellion and discussing an alternate tournament to the World Cup. Sponsors, including the world's most-popular soft drink and best-selling video game, were examining their relationship with FIFA. And the overwhelming majority of fans around the world seemed to want someone else to run the sport.

He announced Tuesday he would resign after a successor could be elected, saying FIFA needed "profound restructuring."

On May 27, U.S. prosecutors issued indictments against 14 current or former soccer officials — including seven arrested in raids at a luxury Zurich hotel — as well as a Swiss criminal investigation into the votes awarding the World Cup tournaments to Russia in 2018 and to Qatar in 2022.

Even though he was not implicated in those investigations, Blatter faced calls for his resignation that came from some of his harshest critics in European soccer as well as from political leaders.

His re-election to a fifth, four-year term Friday was a reflection of the support he enjoyed by giving each of FIFA's 209 member federations a basic yearly sum of $250,000, plus bonuses and project funds from World Cup profits.

Even when scandals tainted FIFA's prestige and image, most of the officials stuck by Blatter, particularly from Africa, Asia and small nations.

Blatter came to embody FIFA and its reputation that was tarnished just as equally as its prize asset, the World Cup, was celebrated as a commercial and popular success.

"People like a scapegoat, of course, but how could things have become so twisted?" Blatter asked an audience of students in England in 2013, deploying his undeniable charisma and charm to try to win over a tough audience.

"As you can see, I'm not some overbearing bully who can intimidate my critics with one look and strong-arm governments to my will," he said.

Blatter devoted more than half his life to working at FIFA, as technical director, chief executive and, since 1998, as elected president.

He mastered the politics of international soccer and reveled in the access and media attention it gave him. He mixed easily with heads of state lured by the commercial and popular power of the World Cup.

Blatter learned a lot from his predecessor, Joao Havelange. The imperious Brazilian presided over FIFA for 24 years — the last 17 with Blatter as chief administrator — in which sports marketing was shaped as a booming industry, and could be bent to the will of federation leaders.

Joseph Blatter was born in the Alpine town of Visp to modest family roots. His father's parents had met when both worked at a hotel for a winter season in the ritzy French Riviera resort of Nice, he told The Associated Press in 2010.

As FIFA president, he relished telling the story that his birth was two months premature, and one of his grandmothers said she thought he would not survive.

"It's because I am a fighter," Blatter would add in a typical touch of light self-aggrandizement.

 

Source: AP - By GRAHAM DUNBAR

 

 

 

 

 

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