x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A matter of justice

You cannot call someone a clown one minute, then suggest the world hangs on his every word the next.

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, is having an Al Capone moment.

Just as the notorious Chicago gangster was eventually jailed on the relatively minor charge of tax evasion, so Blatter finds himself on trial by media for comments he made about racism in football.

The anti-Blatter mob would have preferred to have got him on something juicier, like corruption, but they could never make it stick. So they figure racism will do, particularly if they ratchet up the emotion to maximise the impact of the offence.

And let's be clear what that offence was. Blatter did not blurt out a foul racial slur in an unguarded moment. He did not suggest black players were naturally inferior, or Asians cannot understand tactics.

What he suggested was non-white players should simply absorb racial abuse, and wipe the slate clean with a handshake at the end of the match - much as all players supposedly do following general foul play.

It was a wrong and foolish thing to say, as the history of racism is somewhat more sensitive than the history of shirt-pulling or shin-kicking. A victim of racial abuse has every right to report it, no matter where it takes place.

The vitriol levelled against Blatter, however, is disproportionate and the stench of hypocrisy is powerful.

Let's start with the hypocrisy.

The charge against Blatter is being led by England - the same England that fielded John Terry as captain this week, despite him being under police investigation for allegedly using racial abuse against Anton Ferdinand.

The same England where, just hours after Blatter's gaffe, Liverpool vowed to support the striker Luis Suarez after he was charged by the FA for allegedly using racist abuse towards Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

Gus Poyet, the Brighton manager who is much admired in England, said this week that Evra was a "crybaby" for reporting the alleged abuse. This is effectively the same point as Blatter's, made in a more offensive manner, but nobody called for Poyet's sacking.

Both Terry and Suarez are innocent until proven guilty, of course, but it seems that English football wheels out the "zero tolerance" approach to racism only when it suits.

And why does it suit with Blatter? Because he refused to recognise their innate right to host a World Cup, their historical ownership of the game, preferring instead to take a gamble on sharing it with nations traditionally outside football's establishment. Who is the more racist in that equation?

As for the disproportionate response to Blatter's words, these are summed up by Clarke Carlisle, the Preston North End defender and the Professional Footballers' Association chairman. "We spent 30 years campaigning to bring racism to the height of awareness," he said.

"Yet in one fell swoop he can almost give carte blanche that racism is acceptable between 3pm and 4.45pm on a Saturday."

How can one sentence un-do three decades' work, particularly when it comes from a man who is consistently portrayed as a buffoon? You cannot call someone a clown one minute, then suggest the world hangs on his every word the next.

I do not like Blatter for turning Fifa into a laughing stock, nor do I support his willingness to sweep racism beneath the carpet.

However, to see the Blatter-out campaign suddenly veil its xenophobia and jingoism beneath the convenient flag of anti-racism, simply because it is the only play they have left, seems wrong.

If Blatter is ousted over this - and I doubt he will be - it may look like justice, but it will not feel like it.

-------

Martin Johnson’s ignominious end as the England rugby union coach disproved the adage: “Always pick the man with the most impressive eyebrows, even if he is patently unqualified for the job.”

Actually, that is not really an adage at all. Only a complete idiot, or the English Rugby Football Union, would follow such hokum.

The most surprising thing about Johnson’s exit is not that it happened, but that he achieved as much as he did before the axe fell. Rushing him into such a position was a shoddy way to treat such a giant of the game, as was the whipping of the rug from beneath him.

Still, I am quietly encouraged by the list of likely replacements, as most have one thing in common: they used to be teachers.
Jim Mallinder, the hot favourite, was a PE teacher in Manchester before rugby turned professional; Graham Henry was a headmaster in Auckland; Sir Ian McGeechan taught for 22 years in Leeds; and Jake White was a teacher in Johannesburg.
England rugby players are really just overgrown schoolboys, in need of a firm hand.

The New Zealanders recognised this fact at the World Cup, which is why they presented them with those ridiculous caps which made them look like overgrown extras from the schoolboy serial Just William.
In behavioural terms, the caps certainly fitted. They did not need a tournament coach but a weary sounding, slightly sarcastic teacher to set them straight.

“Tuilagi, when somebody tells you to go and jump in a lake, you should not take it literally.”

“Moody, Lawes, Tuilagi, those mouth guards are not regulation kit. Hand them over and you can have them back at the end of the tournament.”

“Haskell, Ashton, are you hotel chambermaids? No? Then what, pray tell, are you doing with a hotel chambermaid’s walkie-talkie?”

And the old classic: “Put her down, Tindall, you don’t know where she’s been.”

sports@thenational.ae