I'm no Bond villain with sordid secrets and a Persian cat, Sepp Blatter tells students

Football's most powerful man shows humourous side in extraordinary address to Oxford Union

It is indeed a funny old game. How
else to describe the scene of the most powerful man in world football, Fifa
President Sepp Blatter, standing in the wood-panelled debating chamber of the
Oxford Union and stroking an imaginary pussy cat as a portrait of Benazir
Bhutto, one of the many former presidents of this venerable society, gazes on?

That was the scene that unfolded yesterday evening as the 77-year-old Swiss followed three US presidents, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa among a long list of world figures in addressing the 190-year-old Union, showing a hitherto unseen comic streak as he used the opportunity to poke fun at the “Bond villain” portrayal of himself in the British press.

That perception had evidently permeated the dreaming spires judging by the boos mingled with the applause that greeted his entrance yet Blatter, whose political manoeuvrings during his 15-year presidency might draw have drawn a nod of approval from the busts of former prime ministers dotted around the chamber, responded by telling the 500-strong audience: “I am here today to challenge your perceptions of me and of Fifa.”

Pointing to the dark blue Oxford tie he had worn especially for the occasion, he added: “There are those who will tell you of the supposed sordid secrets that lie deep in our Bond villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich, where we apparently plot to exploit the unfortunate and the weak.

“They would have you believe that I sit in my office with a sinister grin, gently stroking the chin of an expensive, white Persian cat as my terrible sidekicks scour the earth to force countries to host the World Cup and to hand over all of their money.”

What followed was a staunch defence of Fifa’s work in redistributing its wealth around the world, its development of women’s football and – in a nod to his own legacy – the decision to take the World Cup to Africa. “We pour hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars back into football every year,” he said. “That is where the money trail leads.”

Blatter, Fifa president for 15 years, said Fifa had been cleaning up its act after allegations of corruption in the voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups but suggested that running the world football governing body was a more complicated task than David Cameron, an Oxford man himself, faces as British prime minister. “He has an easier [job] than I have at FIFA.”

As for the World Cup in Qatar, Blatter was spared too many awkward questions by the fact the usual questions from the floor were dispensed with; instead he fielded several questions from the Union’s president, Parit Wacharasindhu at the end of his 45-minute address.

Blatter repeated his assertion that a summer World Cup in Qatar was a mistake but suggested that the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf state was not the direct responsibility of Fifa. “Most of the other workers are not working on stadiums – they are working on other infrastructure, railways, building big houses,” he said. “Naturally we cannot just tolerate it and do nothing. We cannot interfere directly in the working principles of a country but we can tell them if you don’t stop that it can have consequences.”

Blatter was more forthright in calling for tougher sanctions against racism in the sport, saying the football world had to raise the stakes in the fight against the “devil” of discrimination by imposing proper sporting punishments rather than fines. “We applaud the strong stand that British football has taken against the scourge of racism in football,” he said. “Racism in our game is a big shame. Financial sanctions is not enough – we must punish by deducting points or by suspending a team or eliminating a team from a competition.”

Blatter was non-comittal about his future as Fifa president – “if you ask me if I will go on or two I cannot answer today” – but there insights into his past as he recalled his father’s refusal to allow him to sign a contract with a Swiss club as a teenager because there was “no future in football”. He also told the tale of his premature arrival on the planet, two months early, which left his grandmother to write off his chances of survival. “Looking back, perhaps some of my friends in the British media might have agreed wholeheartedly with my grandmother.” It was one of several nice lines, even if his comic timing was about as good as a summer World Cup in Qatar. 

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?