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.

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. They’ve had opportunities. But they’ve 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, 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

horizon, either.

Why?

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

favored.

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

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 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.

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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.