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Reuters/Toby Melville
Power hungry.

Photos: FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the most powerful man in sports, is a “de facto head of state”

By John McDuling & Matt Phillips

Several top officials from FIFA, the global governing body of the sport of soccer, were sensationally arrested overnight in Zurich, Switzerland. They are being extradited to the US to face charges of corruption.

One prominent official who has not been arrested, of course, is FIFA president Sepp Blatter.  But as the New York Times, which broke the news, pointed out, the investigation could damage his standing.

The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. Blatter has for years acted as a de facto head of state. Politicians, star players, national soccer officials and global corporations that want their brands attached to the sport have long genuflected before him.

There is no suggestion here that Blatter has done anything wrong. Elections for FIFA’s presidency take place this Friday, May 29, and had been seen as essentially a coronation. Whether today’s scandal does anything to change that remains to be seen.

In any case, as his frequent audiences with world leaders attest, Blatter is indeed one powerful and well-connected individual:

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
In the White House with US President Barack Obama in 2009.
Reuters/Alexey Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin
With Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff  in Rio, in July 2014, as part of the official hand-over ceremony for the 2018 World Cup, which is scheduled to take place in Russia.
Reuters/Jose Manuel Ribeiro
Palling around with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel in Stuttgart before the start of the World Cup in 2006
With Spain’s Queen Sofia and South African President Jacob Zuma at the 2010 World Cup final.
Having a laugh with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2003. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
With Australia’s then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during the opening ceremony for the 58th FIFA congress in Sydney in 2008.