Column: Blame Blatter? Blame soccer, too

”Resign!” howled Sepp Blatter’s critics in England after the

FIFA boss spouted ill-timed and offensive views on racism in

soccer.

Easy. Too easy.

It’s 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, soccer has failed.

Miserably.

It is soccer’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 soccer 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’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

soccer’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 soccer 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 gravy is spread around. Tens of

millions of dollars in soccer 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 soccer player 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 soccer 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

soccer 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 blithely voice such absurdities when police

and soccer 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. Soccer federations around the world

were hardly lining up to distance themselves from Blatter. Aside

from 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 soccer 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 female soccer

players to wear ”tighter shorts” in 2004 or for making light of

the strict laws against homosexuality in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup

host.

He’s not going to resign now.

Of course, the great global game of soccer 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 soccer 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