Inside Lines: Embarrassed IOC will keep close eye on slippery Sepp Blatter


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The Independent Online

The International Olympic Committee, terrified of being drawn into the current Fifa imbroglio after their own Games-changing votes-for-bungs corruption scandal over Salt Lake City in 2002, are keeping an anxious eye on the machinations surrounding the international football body's president Sepp Blatter.

The IOC are said to be viewing the crisis over Qatar with 'serious concern' as Blatter is also a leading figure in the Olympic movement. They are particularly embarrassed over his allegations that racism is behind criticism of the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Several of those alleged to have received money have strong links with the Olympic movement, notably Issa Hayatou, the Cameroonian who is both a Fifa vice-president and IOC member. He denies any wrongdoing.

Interestingly Blatter, who says he intends to stand for re-election as world football boss next year, when he will be 79, is also behind a move to scrap the age limit of 80 for IOC membership, calling the current ruling (introduced after Salt Lake) "an act of discrimination".

I first met him back in the early Eighties in a Singapore hotel room when he was 'leg-man' to then Fifa president Joao Havelange as general secretary. Actually the wily Swiss septuagenarian has always been a bit of a leg-man – famously a past president of the Society for the Preservation of the Suspender!

During my interview with Havelange (later forced to resign from the IOC following accusations of receiving $1 million in 'commission' for broadcasting rights) we were constantly interrupted by waiters and couriers bearing gifts from local manufacturers, sponsors and businesses; boxes of shirts, crates of drinks, hi-fi equipment and toiletries were stacked high against the walls, from floor to ceiling. "I think we'll need to hire another plane to get all these home," Blatter smirked knowingly at Havelange.

Just over a decade later we met again in his opulent Zurich emporium after he became Fifa president. I had accompanied the British sports minister Tony Banks who was there to discuss a potential England World Cup bid. For an hour or so Blatter provided a master-class in glib evasion and self-aggrandisement. "Slippery sod, ain't he." sniffed Banks as we left. Plus ça change.

Putin puts Sambo in Games

Further evidence of Vladimir Putin's growing influence in sporting matters comes with the inclusion of Sambo in next year's European Games in Baku. A word in the ear of the Azerbaijani president Ilham Akiyev from Vlad, Russia's former Sambo champion, has seen it added to the programme.

The acronym of the judo-styled martial art first developed by the Red Army translates as "self-defence without weapons". Popular in Ukraine too, apparently.

Groves eyes world title

A fortnight after being poleaxed by Carl Froch's Wembley wonder punch, George Groves is still rubbing his chin, but in thoughtful contemplation rather than pained contrition. "No regrets," he assures us. "I'm already back in the gym. Onwards and upwards."

Many good fighters have climbed off the floor to become world champions, from Joe Louis through to Wladimir Klitschko via Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, David Haye and Amir Khan. Groves doesn't doubt he'll be among them. "Sure, it was heartbreaking but in boxing one mistake, one punch, can change everything. This doesn't seem like a setback to me. I didn't get the result but in some ways it paid off." It certainly did financially as he now sits on a £2 million cushion. "I'm only 26 and I know I'll still be a world champion."

Groves says he will box again in September either in London or Germany and my hunch is that by the end of the year we may see him matched in another score-settling clash with old rival James DeGale at London's O2 for the IBF title which Froch seems inclined to vacate in his quest for a valedictory fight against Julio Cesar Chavez.