Blatter tackles media and FIFA's little devils

ZURICH - FIFA president Sepp Blatter may have come across as being out of touch with the fan in the street at his astonishing news conference on Monday, but the 75-year-old Swiss had another audience firmly in his mind.

Flatly denying there was any crisis at FIFA amid a room of heckling reporters, he still delivered a message that the majority of the ruling body's 208 member countries wanted to hear.

He admitted the sport's ruling body was facing "difficulties" but the members should be assured that their strong leader would take care of business as he has done for the last 13 years.

It is not the fan in the street that keeps Blatter in what he described himself as "his privileged position" but the presidents and chairmen who vote to have him in power.

On Wednesday, they will not even have to do that as the man who was planning to stand against him, 62-year-old Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam, was banned from all football related activity on Sunday following an inquiry by FIFA's Ethics Committee into bribery allegations.

So Blatter took centre-stage in FIFA's auditorium, standing behind a lectern with artificial flowers in containers at his feet to add a touch of colour to the otherwise sombre grey and black decor.

His mood also seemed to veer between steely grey and black as he ran through his usual repertoire of buzz-words and phrases like "football family," "devils in football" and "I used to be a journalist."

After one vociferous English reporter demanded the answer to a shouted question despite not having the floor microphone, Blatter responded: "Listen gentlemen, I accepted to have a press conference with you, alone here, I respect you, please respect me and the procedure of the press conference.

"Don't intervene, we are not in a bazaar here, and we are in the FIFA House, in front of a very important FIFA Congress."

Blatter later responded to another journalist who laughed openly at one of his answers.

"You can laugh," he said. "But that is also an attitude, elegance is also an attitude and respect is also an attitude.

"I have learned this in my life."

WALKING AWAY

There were other outbursts from journalists unhappy that they were not able to ask questions, and the news conference ended with a German reporter shouting so loudly at Blatter that he returned to the lectern before walking away again.

Through it all, Blatter managed to keep his composure, but clearly he is feeling the kind of pressure he has not been under since the financial mismanagement crisis of 2002 when his then secretary general Michel Zen-Ruffinen produced a 30-page document outlining FIFA's financial woes.

Just over two weeks ago Blatter thumped the desk with his fist when he was asked about corruption while in South Africa and, at times on Monday, he looked his 75 years.

Despite his age and FIFA's problems, Blatter will be re-elected unopposed to stand for a fourth and, he says, his final term as president, with his retirement date pencilled in for 2015 when he will be 79.

Asked what he felt about Bin Hammam's aborted challenge, Blatter whacked the question into touch like a full-back taking no chances with a troublesome loose ball.

"Personally, I was prepared to go into an election process with another candidate and then the Congress would have decided, but now the situation has changed," he said.

But asked if he was part of FIFA's problem, that he needed to go for FIFA to reform, he replied: "The Congress will decide if I am a valid or non valid candidate - the delegates on Wednesday have the opportunity to restore FIFA's credibility."

He made one other comment that was not quite what he intended.

Blatter was elected president in 1998 and he told reporters: "I have to say at the beginning of FIFA when I entered 36 years ago, we had no problem until 1998 because this was the so-called modest FIFA.

"Now we are a comfortable FIFA and I think because we are too comfortable with such a situation then all the little devils can enter the game.

"We have started to fight and we are in a bad situation but we have the possibility at the Congress on Wednesday if the delegates want to take it, if they want to restore this credibility of FIFA and restore it with me."

As a warm-up act, it was quite a turn. Not exactly the performance of a lifetime, but one that might just see him and FIFA through the current crisis, or whatever term he would like to use to describe it.


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