Column: Blame Blatter? Blame football, too
”Resign!” howled Sepp Blatter critics in England after the
FIFA boss spouted forth with ill-timed and offensive views on
racism in football.
Easy. Too easy.
Saying Blatter should go is as facile as pointing out that it
isn’t nice to pick one’s nose in public. It’s the sort of thing
that many or most 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.
It is football’s own fault that Blatter is still in charge,
still able to dismay and infuriate from FIFA’s glass fortress in
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. They’ve had opportunities. But they’ve stuck by
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, it gave him 91 percent of the vote. The regime in North
Korea couldn’t have done much better. There are no courageous
rebels leading an Arab Spring uprising in football and none on the
One reason is money.
Under Blatter, FIFA has raked in mounds of the stuff. It has
built financial reserves of more than $1 billion. 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 tricks during his nearly 14 years as FIFA
president has been to ensure that the gravy is getting 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
The former amateur footballer is also a proven master of keeping
friends and enemies close. 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 so little 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 realized that he wasn’t clever to say
this week in television interviews that racism isn’t an issue on
football pitches and, even worse, to suggest 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 blithely voice such absurdities when police
and football officials in England are investigating two cases of
on-field alleged racist abuse between players in the Premier League
made the FIFA president look willfully 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
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 Blatter.
Aside from in Britain, where Sports Minister Hugh Robertson
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 hasn’t seen a need to step aside over any of the
numerous corruption allegations that have undermined faith in FIFA
and his leadership.
He didn’t see fit to slink off for calling on women footballers
to wear ”tighter shorts” in 2004 or for making light of the
strict laws against homosexuality in 2022 World Cup host Qatar.
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.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The
Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow
him at twitter.com/johnleicester.