Cheers, jeers await FIFA boss Blatter in Brazil
GENEVA (AP) The two sides of being FIFA President Sepp Blatter are on display just before the troubled World Cup kicks off on June 12. Acclaimed by world soccer leaders but held in contempt by many soccer fans.
Blatter should arrive at the Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo to watch host Brazil play Croatia confident that this tournament - his fifth as president - won't be his last leading the world's favorite sport.
One day earlier, the 78-year-old Blatter should ask for, and get, consent from 209 FIFA member federation bosses to seek another four-year presidential term.
''Yes, I would like to do it,'' Blatter said earlier this month about his expected candidacy for the secret ballot scheduled May 29, 2015. ''My mandate is almost over but my mission is not finished.''
The endorsement at the Transamerica Expo Center might be a personal high point of Blatter's stay in Brazil, a country which loves soccer but not the cost levied on taxpayers to stage the month-long show.
When Blatter appears on a public stage he faces inevitable boos and jeers - just as at previous World Cups and the Confederations Cup held in Brazil last June.
The fact FIFA pays no tax to Brazil's public finances from its $4 billion revenue for broadcasting and commercial deals tied to the 2014 World Cup is an added provocation. Even if it is a standard demand on countries wanting to host a World Cup or Olympic Games.
Blatter, who often travels and is feted like a head of state, is a useful target for social activists and for soccer fans familiar with the corruption cases that have involved some of its senior officials in recent years.
A change to usual World Cup protocol means that presidents of FIFA and the host nation will not make speeches in the stadium during the formal opening ceremony.
Not after he and state President Dilma Rousseff were booed when addressing the crowd before Brazil's match which opened the Confederations Cup last year in the new Brasilia stadium.
''Friends of Brazilian football, where is the respect and the fair play, please?'' the multilingual Blatter asked spectators in their Portuguese language, as their head of state stood beside him.
So, no chance in the 65,000-capacity Sao Paulo stadium for spectators to upstage the presidents.
''If you know that these things could happen, that at the end the two persons who are giving a speech will feel bad, why (do) you put them in this position?'' FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said.
Still, the protocol plan calls for Blatter and Rousseff - who faces her own re-election contest within months - to jointly present the trophy on July 13 to the winning captain in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium.
Four years ago, Blatter and South Africa's President Jacob Zuma both had a hand on the gold trophy which they passed to Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas without any public disapproval.
That came three hours earlier when the FIFA leader's name was announced as he entered the Soccer City pitch during pre-match introductions to the players.
''I was only aware there were less vuvuzelas,'' Blatter said the next day. ''We went on the field of play and it was a great moment.''
In 2006, Blatter skipped the on-field trophy presentation to the Italy team in Berlin.
''History will say that it was an error'' he acknowledged to Italian media several months later. ''I wanted to avoid creating an ugly scene because the Germans had shown they would whistle at the word FIFA.''
Blatter should face no such disrespect on June 11 at the FIFA Congress, an event which the skilled Swiss administrator controls with mastery.
In the depths of public disdain with FIFA in June 2011, Blatter was re-elected as the only candidate. He got 186 of 203 votes cast despite a turbulent few months of bribery scandals and widespread doubts about the integrity of awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
''We have been hit and I personally have been slapped. I don't want that ever again,'' Blatter said from the congress stage in Zurich, committing FIFA to a reform program which critics saw as richly ironic that he would lead.
''The FIFA ship is in troubled waters but this ship must be brought back on the right track,'' he said before the poll. ''I am the captain of the ship.''
When the England delegation broke ranks and tried to postpone the vote, Blatter marshalled a global spread of loyal members to march up and join a brutal verbal attack on the founding soccer association.
Blatter can surely expect similarly support in less tempestuous times in Sao Paulo.
Apart from some wealthy member nations, few of FIFA's 209 seem anxious to change a system and leadership which has let millions of World Cup dollars trickle down to them during Blatter's 16-year rule.
Though UEFA President Michel Platini clearly covets the top job, FIFA history since 1974 shows that a bedrock of European votes is far from enough for victory.
Should Blatter continue to enjoy good health, he can look forward to a more agreeable welcome at the 2018 World Cup opening ceremony.
Side by side with Vladimir Putin.