Joseph S. “Sepp” Blatter probably surprised a few people today by resigning from his position as President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The surprise comes from how bullish the man has been over the years. His resignation speech outlined the reason for going as being the fact that despite having the mandate of FIFA he feels he doesn’t have the support of everyone in Football. But if FIFA is the representative of World Football then surely this means that FIFA has little or no mandate at all. Yet in the rush to condemn FIFA we must be careful not to allow a vacuum be created that will be quickly filled by the rich and powerful in the game of which UEFA is in the vanguard.
Blatter has spent the last thirty-four years working at FIFA, initially as general secretary but since 1998 as president. He has been re-elected by the delegates from all over the world in 2002, 2007, 2011 and last week. What is unusual about his resignation is that it does not have immediate effect, but rather will only take effect when an extraordinary FIFA Congress is convened. This may take some time to convene. I sincerely hope there is no shredder in the office.
For a man who specialised in Public Relations for companies such as Longines, at times he has been a PR disaster. Blatter hasn’t been popular in Ireland, particularly since he made fun of Thierry Henry’s handball which enabled France score the crucial goal, ensuring that they, and not us, would be travelling to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The incident generated quite a bit of debate, mostly in European football, about fair play, introducing goal line technology and video refereeing but it all came to nought. It was well-known that Blatter was not a huge fan of such technology and in any event the World Cup might do without Ireland but it could not do without a potential 60 million TV viewers in France.
Henry admitted after the game that he had cheated. The incident was referred to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee for a ruling, but they held they had no power to sanction a player even though he had just admitted cheating in such an important game. FIFA reputation in Ireland fell even further when Blatter’s ‘off the cuff’ remarks about Ireland asking to be included as 33rd team for the tournament. Blatter laughed and joked about Ireland’s request which apparently had been alluded to in private discussions with the FAI and details of which should never have been aired in such a public manner. The FAI were scathing, their fans furious, at what was quite rightfully perceived as adding injury to insult.
But these are minor matters compared to what Blatter has presided over in FIFA with allegations of corruption ranging from whispers to outspoken claims of bribery involved in tournament selection. The award of the World Cup tournament to a country with no footballing tradition and in the middle of an Arabian Summer was absurd and ludicrous. There will be a lot of eggs fried, for those lucky enough to have an egg, in Quatar in the summer of 2022.
Yet no one expected the end was so nigh for Herr Blatter. As Wodehouse wrote in Jeeves, “Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove” It took the Americans to grab the bull by the horns and act once again as Global Policeman. The arrest of seven FIFA officials was part hollywood, part judicial ambush but for all the showmanship there appears to be considerable substance behind the investigation conducted thusfar.
In so many ways the Yanks have shown up Europe again as having no teeth or at the very least an unwillingness to force change no matter how compelling the allegations of wrongdoing. This is definitely one American led Regime Change which I will be wholeheartedly supporting.
*It’s hard to believe it is 29 years ago this month that Diego Maradona broke English hearts with his famous ‘Hand of God’ goal at the Aztec Stadium. For whatever reason, I remember feeling okay about that particular goal. Yes it was cheating but it was Maradona and more importantly it was England.
The little genius beat almost the entire English team a few minutes later to score one of the greatest World Cup goals ever and Argentina went on to win the Cup. The game had to be seen in the historical context of the Falklands War just four years previous and the Troubles on our own Island. Yet this was sport and this was cheating.
I often wonder how I would have felt if it was Robbie Keane who had handled the ball at the other end in Paris in 2009, knocking it across to Doyler or Duffer to scramble it over the line. I’m quite sure if it had happened, I would have come to terms with it, eventually, and by the time I was buying my vuvuzela outside the Soccer City Stadium the pangs of guilt would be well-forgotten.