Crisp Shots

June 3, 2011

Bye Battered Blatter

I WRITE about Joseph Sepp Blatter as if he is dead. It is deliberate. Blatter has been in FIFA in the past 36 years. He inherited his iron fist from the Belgian-Brazilian Jean Marie Jo o Faustino Godefroid Havelange, who competed in water polo and swimming in the 1936 and 1952 Olympic Games. Now 95, Havelange, who ruled FIFA for 24 years, was deep in the scandals around the 1998 transmutation of Blatter from Secretary-General to President of FIFA. Other re-elections of Blatter (2002, 2007) have swirled more scandals.

What became of Blatter? The television images of his evasiveness at a Zurich media briefing on Monday eclipsed his romance with football. He was dodgy, edgy and surely had a lot to hide. He was a pathetic sight, drained of the confidence he was known for, drenched in the stench of allegations that refuse to go away. He was not sure whether to shun questions or answer them – he did both.

“Football is not in a crisis,” Blatter said, his irritation was obvious. “We are only in some difficulty and our problems must be solved within our family. I regret what has happened in the last few days and weeks – great damage has been done to the image of FIFA.”

His decision to live in denial is a bigger part of the scandal. Predictably, FIFA’s Ethics Committee cleared Blatter of allegations of corruption President of the Asia Football Federation Mohammed bin Hammam made. Hamman, a candidate against Blatter was suspended along with Jack Warner, accused of bribing to aid Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid.

How can Blatter talk of scandals that have dogged FIFA for more than 12 years as “what has happened in the last few days and weeks?” He spoke because almost everyone around him had been indicted. Could FIFA have become a cesspit under his watch without his knowledge?

The suspension of FIFA Executives began last October over the same issues. Was that “in the last few days and weeks?” What about the suspension after the 2006 World Cup bid, which South Africa lost in controversial circumstances? Blatter was in-charge.

FIFA sued Blatter in 2002 after FIFA Secretary-General Michel Zen-Ruffinen drew up a 30-page allegation of financial mismanagement in FIFA. He accused Blatter of poor management of FIFA’s marketing partnership with ISL. FIFA lost $100m to the collapse of ISL.

Expectedly, Swiss authorities found Blatter innocent. FIFA bore the loss; Zen-Ruffinen lost his job. Blatter did not allow further investigation of the matter. He stopped an internal investigation, accusing its members of breaking confidentiality agreements.

Blatter used to be the media’s delight. At the 1988 Nations Cup in Morocco, on discovering that many African journalists did not receive FIFA publications, he put them on FIFA’s mailing list. I am still on that list courtesy of that gesture.

His gusto for development of global football began with his work as FIFA Technical Director. Nobody knows about FIFA or global football better than he does. His elevation to Secretary-General and Chief Executive of FIFA meant he was there as FIFA grew, created new competitions, and negotiated television and marketing deals that enhanced the football brand.

Blatter – blathering, battered, bothering, bruised, and besmirched – cannot lead FIFA. He will win another term, since he is the only candidate, but football will lose badly. One of the biggest tragedies of the game is that a man who began so well, who once made great contributions would kill it with bespoken greed developed over years of working the webs of scandals that riddled FIFA and became accepted part of the beautiful game.

Unfortunately, FIFA and football will miss Blatter (the one we once knew), who cared for the game, who expended the early part of his FIFA stay since 1975, working for the good of the game. The former Swiss army colonel who was not belligerent, a man who was at home with the media (he was a journalist), the polyglot, who found a tongue from his fluency in French, German, English, Spanish, and Italian to relax his audience will spend the rest of his days in remorse.

No more shall we see thee self-effacing Blatter, boisterous, engaging, all for the good of the game. Football is in an incongruous frame from the man who once flamed it to fame.

Bye Mr. Blatter, whenever you decide to stop ruining football.

Home-Grown Football
THOSE who rush to Zurich for solutions to challenges of Nigerian football may have to look elsewhere. FIFA has enough headaches of its own.

Can our floundering football wait? What are really the issues that cannot be resolved within the laws of Nigeria? Like Blatter, some people think they have a right to reduce the game to the type of infamy in FIFA. I can only wish them the same luck attending Monsieur Blatter.