HE GREW THE GAME, AT A COST

Los Angeles Times - - FIFA CRISIS - By Greg Hadley greg.hadley@la­times.com

With his res­ig­na­tion Tues­day morn­ing, Sepp Blat­ter will leave the or­ga­ni­za­tion he has led for al­most 17 years. Through­out his time at FIFA, he weath­ered nearly con­stant ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion, but also spread the game to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries around the globe.

Blat­ter has been in­volved in sports his en­tire life — from the age of 4 when he first took up soc­cer, through his early ca­reer as head of the Swiss Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion, as well as his in­volve­ment in or­ga­niz­ing the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games.

His rise to power in FIFA started in 1975, when he was named tech­ni­cal direc­tor. Six years later, he was pro­moted to sec­re­tary gen­eral, the sec­ond-high­est po­si­tion in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, un­der Pres­i­dent Joao Have­lange. It is Blat­ter’s own sec­re­tary gen­eral, Jerome Val­cke, who is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for a po­ten­tial $10-mil­lion bribe that has be­come the fo­cus of the cor­rup­tion scan­dal.

Blat­ter was elected as pres­i­dent for the first time in 1998 with a plat­form cen­tered on push­ing soc­cer be­yond the tra­di­tional strongholds of South Amer­ica and Europe and into Africa and Asia.

Within a year, how­ever, Bri­tish re­porter David Yal­lop re­leased a book ac­cus­ing Blat­ter of spend­ing $1 mil­lion to bribe top of­fi­cials and se­cure votes. Blat­ter not only re­fused to open an in­quiry into the ac­cu­sa­tions, he also at­tempted to block sales of the book in the Nether­lands.

High-rank­ing of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Farah Addo, the vice pres­i­dent of the African Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion, and Len­nart Jo­hans­son, pres­i­dent of Europe’s gov­ern­ing body UEFA, con­tin­ued to ac­cuse Blat­ter of cor­rup­tion, say­ing he and those clos­est to him bun­gled fi­nances, made bribes and in­dulged in crony­ism.

De­spite th­ese claims, Blat­ter was re­elected by a wide mar­gin in 2002, ran un­op­posed in 2007 and won a fourth term in 2011 when his only op­po­nent, for­mer ally Mo­hamed bin Ham­mam, with­drew a week be­fore the elec­tion be­cause of al­le­ga­tions of bribery. He was banned from soc­cer ac­tiv­i­ties for life by FIFA.

In the run-up to the 2002 elec­tion, then-sec­re­tary gen­eral Michel Zen Ruffinen re­leased a file that al­leged de­tailed fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment within FIFA that led to losses of al­most $100 mil­lion dur­ing Blat­ter’s ten­ure. Swiss au­thor­i­ties cleared Blat­ter of any wrong­do­ing, and he re­moved Zen-Ruffinen from of­fice be­fore the World Cup.

Blat­ter con­tin­ued to suc­ceed in elec­tions be­cause of strong sup­port from the African and Asian coun­tries he made the heart of his cam­paign in each cy­cle. Un­der his lead­er­ship, both con­ti­nents hosted their first World Cups (2002 in Ja­pan and South Korea, 2010 in South Africa), and they each ex­panded their own re­gional tour­na­ment slate.

Blat­ter has been con­nected to two dif­fer­ent scan­dals in the last three years. In 2013, he was de­clared in­no­cent by a FIFA ethics com­mis­sion look­ing into al­leged il­le­gal pay­ments to ex­ec­u­tives from 1992 to 2000. Have­lange was found to have ac­cepted bribes and re­signed as hon­orary pres­i­dent.

Two days be­fore the 2015 elec­tion, nine cur­rent and for­mer FIFA ex­ec­u­tives were in­dicted on cor­rup­tion charges.

De­spite the con­tro­versy, as well as op­po­si­tion from UEFA and U.S. Soc­cer, Blat­ter won a fifth term last week, de­feat­ing re­form can­di­date Prince Ali bin al Hus­sein of Jor­dan, once again with the back­ing of most Asian and African coun­tries.

Four days later, Blat­ter an­nounced he would re­sign from of­fice as soon as a spe­cial elec­tion could be held.

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