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WORLD SPORT

Voice of football never out of spotlight

FIFA president Sepp Blatter friend and foe alike

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The 70-year-old Swiss has been FIFA president since 1998 but worked for the federation since 1975.

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Sepp Blatter
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(CNN) -- As president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter holds the most powerful job in world football, in charge of more member nations than comprise the United Nations.

The 70-year-old Swiss has held the position as head of football's world governing body -- the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) -- since 1998, and attracted controversy almost as soon as he stepped into the role.

A year after the bitterly contested election campaign for the job against favorite Lennart Johansson, Blatter was accused of bribing his way to the top.

Those allegations have been fiercely denied by the FIFA president and his camp but they have failed to go away, the latest being printed in a book published in 2006 by British journalist Andrew Jennings.

Critics have also accused Blatter of plunging FIFA into financial crisis.

In 2002 he faced a judicial inquiry after allegations of serious wrong-doing were raised by a senior colleague.

He strongly rejected the claims and the courts found no evidence to sustain them, and once in the clear, was elected by a landslide to a second term as FIFA president.

But some believe a cloud of suspicion has remained with him since.

Blatter started playing football at the age of four, and made it to the top division of amateur Swiss football with local team Visp.

He has dedicated most of his career to the development of the game and began working for FIFA in 1975 as director of the federation's technical development programs.

Married and divorced three times -- most recently to a former dolphin trainer friend of his daughter -- Blatter has been with current partner Ilona Boguska for two years. The pair met while playing tennis a decade ago.

His only child, daughter Corinne, has managed his presidential campaigns. Her daughter and Blatter's only grandchild, five-year-old Selina, is the apple of his eye.

It is Blatter's leadership skills that have made the FIFA president such a firm friend or fierce adversary of those who meet him.

While he has been no stranger to disapproval during his tenure at the top, supporters have lauded his business savvy and dedication to promoting grass roots football, particularly in developing nations.

When Blatter joined the federation, 146 countries were members. Now, there are 207 member nations, more than the United Nation's 192 member states.

His slogan while campaigning to become president was "Football for all -- all for football."

Together with predecessor Brazilian Joao Havelange he revolutionized the world of football -- commercializing the game through sale of TV rights and sponsorship and using much of the money to support football in developing nations.

He encouraged moves to stage the World Cup in the U.S., Asia and Africa -- breaking the stranglehold of Europe and South America.

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The FIFA president reached Switzerland's top amateur league playing for Visp.

A few days after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Southeast Asia on 26 December 2005, FIFA donated $2 million to the cause and in April 2006, Blatter was among representatives that visit affected countries.

Blatter has also been the driving force behind moves to boost the profile of women's football.

Ironically, one of his most memorable sound bites saw him suggesting female players wear tighter shorts to improve the game's popularity.

He is also known for making outspoken remarks about referees, often attacks the financial excess in the game -- particularly English clubs who draft in overseas players and pay them million-dollar salaries -- and under his presidency FIFA has banned over-indulgent celebrations.

At this year's FIFA congress, Blatter announced he would stand for a third term as president.

Whether he will be given extra time to control the world's most cherished and world's richest sport or a red card remains to be seen.

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