POSTED: December 13th 2010

NEIL WILSON: How poisoned legacy of Dassler's power games lives on

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Dec 13: In the beginning there was Horst Dassler. All that happened in Zurich this month, from the failure of England’s World Cup bid to the successes of Russia and Qatar, had the dead hand of the only son of a German shoe-maker behind it. Certainly the involvement of Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA; probably the atmosphere of venality perceived of men on the make.

Dassler bestrode international sports administration in the 1970s and 1980s, flexing the influence that the financial muscle that the family company Adidas gave him. The victory of former water polo player Joao Havelange over England’s Sir Stanley Rous for the FIFA presidency was his triumph of influence; so was Juan Antonio Samaranch’s election as president of the International Olympic Committee.

Blatter’s original employment at FIFA in the newly-created role of director of technical development programmes was another of Dassler's smaller coups. For a few weeks that year Sepp and I worked in the same London offices of a company Dassler part-owned, he having been ‘parked’ there after leaving Swiss watch-makers Longines until FIFA was ready for him.

FIFA was poverty-stricken in those days but Dassler’s men persuaded Coca-Cola to underwrite a development programme for Blatter to direct and created a marketing programme that made FIFA real profits for the first time from the 1978 World Cup.


Few today remember that Blatter rose to be secretary-general of FIFA in 1981 only when the incumbent, Helmut Kaser, was ousted by Havelange for questioning his accounting methods, the first unsuccessful whistle-blower in a line that has grown long at FIFA House.

Dassler knew the way to lesser men’s hearts was through their pockets and their egos. You could not leave his company without a gift or two. Call him generous, if you like, but you may choose to call it something else.

I remember coming across two of his henchman on their knees in a hotel room in Innsbruck at the 1976 Winter Olympic sorting through boxes of gifts while they decided which officials should be the beneficiaries. “No, he had a watch last time,” is a remark imprinted on my memory.

Gifts and money, and not just FIFA but across a wide spectrum of sport. The Olympics was not unaffected.

Open-hand society

Dassler, remember, created International Sport & Leisure, the Swiss marketing company which went bankrupt after funnelling tens of millions of dollars in bribes to sporting bodies and officials. It was the International Olympic Committee’s marketing agent for 10 years.

Dassler spawned the open-hand society that infects the politicians that run our sports internationally still today. The IOC rid itself largely of the disease only when, first, it dumped ISL and later when one of its inner circle, Marc Hodler, a man of the old school, choked on the detritus he discovered and spilled the unpalatable truth of bribes to the media.

FIFA needs its Hodler. It is hard to identify one of such character among its exco members but until one stands up to be counted and bares his soul, doing business with the world’s most popular sport will not be for men of integrity.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books        

Keywords · Neil Wilson · FIFA · IOC · Dassler · Havelange · Hodler · Blatter · Samaranch

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