x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Register the electoral mistake

Do not solely blame the man in charge of Fifa, blame the people who voted for him.

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, has said ‘racism unfortunately continues to exist in football’.
Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, has said ‘racism unfortunately continues to exist in football’.

"Resign", howled Sepp Blatter's critics in England after the Fifa president spouted ill-timed and offensive views on racism in football.

Easy. Too easy.

It is the sort of thing many people would agree with. But simply saying something is unpleasant doesn't make it go away.

That takes action. And, in that regard, football has failed. Miserably.

It is football's own fault that Blatter is still in charge, still able to dismay and infuriate from Fifa's glass fortress in Switzerland.

Those who run the global game, the football federation officials around the world who, ultimately, are Blatter's electorate, have had umpteen reasons to ditch him or call for his head before this latest episode. But they have stuck by him.

So they shoulder responsibility for giving a platform to his views, too. Remember: Fifa member countries awarded Blatter a fourth four-year term just five months ago despite bribery allegations, ugly internal politicking and match-fixing and corruption cases in the sport that have shredded the credibility of football's governing body and the men who lead it.

Not only did the fawning Fifa congress allow Blatter to stand unopposed, after Mohamed bin Hammam's candidacy was derailed by allegations of vote-buying, it gave him 91 per cent of the vote. The regime in North Korea could not have done much better.


One reason is money.

Under Blatter, Fifa has raked in mounds of the stuff. It has built financial reserves of more than US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn). It has the cash-cow World Cup. It sits atop a giant of a sport that is still growing in popularity, especially in promising markets in Asia and the Middle East.

One of Blatter's most effective tactics during his nearly 14 years as Fifa president has been to ensure that the gravy is spread around. Tens of millions of dollars in football development money doled out here, special $550,000 bonuses for all Fifa member associations in 2010 there. Seats on Fifa committees for the favoured.

The former amateur footballer is also a proven master of keeping friends close and enemies closer. It is a testimony to Blatter's power, to his people and management skills, and to inertia and acceptance within football, that even at the end of this year of atrocious headlines for Fifa, there appears to be no appetite at the top of the sport to question Blatter's leadership or methods.

Clearly, judging from his subsequent efforts to extract both feet from his mouth, Blatter realised that he was not clever to say this week in television interviews that racism is not an issue on football fields. Even worse, he suggested that players who are victims of racist slurs should simply shake hands with and forgive their abusers at the end of a match.

That Blatter could voice such absurdities when police and football officials in England are investigating two cases of alleged on-field racist abuse between players in the Premier League made the Fifa president look wilfully insensitive and hopelessly out of touch.

When Blatter later backtracked with a statement acknowledging that "racism unfortunately continues to exist in football", Fifa's website published it with a 2009 photo of him embracing Tokyo Sexwale, a South African government minister and former Robben Island prisoner. How clumsy. All that was missing was a caption reading, "Look, Blatter likes black people and they like him."

But where was the subsequent outpouring of shock and anger from the global game? Didn't happen. Football federations around the world were hardly lining up to distance themselves from their president. Aside from Britain, where Hugh Robertson, the sports minister, declared: "For the sake of the game, he should go," the Fifa president's comments didn't seem to cause much of a ripple from football authorities. Many said nothing.

Blatter has not seen a need to step aside over any of the numerous corruption allegations that have undermined faith in Fifa and his leadership.

He did not see fit to slink off for calling on female football players to wear "tighter shorts" in 2004.

He's not going to resign now.

Of course, the great global game of football should have a forward-looking, scrupulously honest, modern, transparent, humble, open and intelligent leader.

It has Blatter. Who's fault is that? The easy route is to say he should go. The more constructive one would be if those with power in football actually did something about it.