Sepp Blatter has described how Swiss government officials wanted him to play agent provocateur and help try to remove an African dictator.
The claim is set out in the former FIFA president’s autobiography, Sepp Blatter: Mission & Passion Fussball, co-authored with loyal script-writer Thomas Renggli and which has just been published in German in Switzerland.*
Blatter had hoped to publish his memoirs earlier this year, at around the time of the election which saw him replaced by Gianni Infantino at the head of the world football federation. Legal concerns forced a delay.
One headline section concerns an approach to Blatter by Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, prompted by the United States, to try to help remove Pierre Nkurunziza as President of Burundi.
Blatter had a particular political connection into Burundi through Lydia Nsekera, the International Olympic Committee member whom he had proposed successfully in 2012 as the first woman to serve on the FIFA executive committee.
Nkurunziza had been elected initially as President of Burundi in 2005 in the first elections since the start of the country’s bloody civil war a decade earlier. He was re-elected in 2010 and then sought a further term last year despite a clause in the constitution limiting presidents to two stints in office.
This prompted fears in the international community of further violence amid Nkurunziza’s angry rejection of United Nations calls for the deployment of peacemakers. Hence, according to the book, Swiss Foreign Minister Yves Rossier asked Blatter to offer Nkurunziza a ‘FIFA ambassadorship’ to persuade him to step back from politics.
Blatter claimed that the approach from his own government in May last year had been prompted by the United States which is particularly ironic considering that, simultaneously, the US Department of Justice was about to launch its explosive FIFAGate assault on corruption at the highest levels in world football.
Swiss media has reported a Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson as confirming that a “request” had been made to Blatter but not its nature. She added: “It is not uncommon to consult non-diplomats, if this can contribute to the solution of a problem due to their experience and particular relationships.”
In the event the ‘football plot’ fell through, Blatter had other issues on his plate closer to his FIFA home, and Nkurunziza was re-elected in November
By then Blatter had been suspended by the FIFA ethics committee while it investigated allegations that he had breached ethics code regulations concerning the under-valued sale of World Cup television rights to Jack Warner, the former CONCACAF regional president, and over a ‘disloyal payment’ to FIFA’s French vice-president Michel Platini (the head of European federation UEFA).
Just before Christmas Blatter was banned from all football activities for eight years and fined. This was reduced subsequently to six years by the FIFA appeal committee. Blatter has lodged a further appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport and is awaiting a hearing date.
He remains the subject of a formal criminal investigation by the Office of the Swiss Attorney-General over the allegations of mismanagement concerning the rights sale and conflict of interest vis-a-vis the Platini payment.
Blatter, who was 80 in March, has continued to protest his innocence of all charges.
Last week he was involved in an angry exchange with Luis Ocampo Moreno, the former International Criminal Court prosecutor, during a symposium considering FIFA reform at the University of Basel.
Blatter was furious that Moreno Ocampo had accused him of knowingly remaining silent, while president, about corruption among members of the FIFA executive committee.
As for Nsekera, she remains a member of the newly-evolving FIFA Council despite having been ousted as Burundi federation president in 2013. She lost an election, whose validity was affirmed by FIFA observers, by 56-31 votes to Reverien Ndikuriyo, an influential politician and club president. Last august Ndikuriyo became president of the senate under Nkurunziza.
* Sepp Blatter: Mission & Passion Fussball, with Thomas Renggli (WerdVerlag).