The American political satirist and comedian Jon Stewart gave some sound advice to his many viewers during his last edition as host of Comedy Central’s fake news programme “The Daily Show.” At the end of a monologue cutely entitled “The war on bullshit” he asked them to be aware of said substance when listening to politicians or other public figures and “if you smell something, say something.” This week, three Fifa people, two hopefully of its past and one hopefully not of its future, demonstrated a sort of opposite…that if they say something, you smell something.
Blatter’s Tass Tale
Joseph Blatter has had plenty of spare time lately. And if his interview with Russia’s Tass News Agency is a guide, he’s filled it by pondering “how can I out bulls**t my last public interview?”
Interviews with Dutch newspaper de Volksrant and the BBC’s increasingly-excellent Richard Conway had, to quote the great Fawlty Towers, provided enough material for an entire conference. However, in Russia, he reached bulls**t levels to match bulls with chronic diarrhoea before a fortnight of force-fed laxatives.
The headline-grabber was the odd-sounding revelation about the pre-judged nature of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes. Words from a Swiss national speaking English as a second/third language and translated into Russian and back are liable to lose something in that translation. But the Conway-obtained audio of the quote: “it was agreed in the group that we go to Russia…and for 2022 we go back to America” scuppered that excuse.
Clearly, Blatter deliberately sought these headlines. His self-awareness deficit and basic survival instincts remain intact. So he probably believed giving consecutive World Cups to the “two biggest political powers” would sound sensible when said out loud. And that the wrong-doing he was exposing wasn’t any “double-decision” but Uefa president Michel Platini’s “double-dealing” in supporting Qatar.
It is unclear which “group” agreed to this…but not necessarily important. Because, one, when Blatter “reveals” something, the key question is, to paraphrase Jeremy Paxman, “why is this lying bastard lying to me?” And because, two, the chronology Blatter presents doesn’t fit known events.
Blatter is “lying” here as part of his clumsily obvious campaign to discredit Platini – a rare fit of transparency, you might think. Blatter claims “everything was good,” – hardly a textbook introduction to an exposure of corruption. In his mind/world, only when “Mr. Platini said it would be good to go to Qatar” did things start to go, and be, wrong.
Yet The Ugly Game, Sunday Times newspaper journalists Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert’s account of The Qatari plot to buy the World Cup, includes evidence that Qatari football chief Mohamed Bin Hammam started “plotting” in 2008 and that his work was done by November 2010. So Platini didn’t sway any votes over a November 2010 lunch, as Blatter claimed. Indeed, Blatter’s claim is the only “evidence” that he did. Suddenly, the media has a touching faith in Blatter’s veracity.
The interview is history revisionism at its swiftest and silliest. Tass’s headline is Blatter: Fifa scandal provoked by Platini, with Uefa and Platini blamed for almost everything. Oh…and the European Parliament…and then Platini again.
Blatter sings all his hits. The Confederations not being “his” people (“how can I be morally responsible”?). The “anti-Fifa virus” at Uefa. Being “sidelined” at the 2008 European Championships. The “bad losers” of the British media and the defeated World Cup bid teams. “If the USA was given the World Cup,” Blatter claims, “we would not speak about any problems at Fifa.” As delusional as 17 words get.
And there’s a bonus song about Fifa’s Ethics Committee. Amid the industrial-scale irony of complaints that it treated him as it has long-treated his opponents, Blatter lets slip his particular angst at being suspended by them.
“I put these people into the office,” he says, leaving “and this is how they repay me” unsaid. “They wanted to say, ‘we, Ethics Committee, we are not at the service of the president, we are totally independent.’” And he adds: “this is wrong” before hurriedly backtracking: “they can be independent but they don’t need to be against me.”
Even his sucking up to his Russian hosts is delusional. He believes it a ‘good thing’ that “I still have the support of President Putin.” While supporting Putin “in all discussions, in all situations” takes realpolitik too far. And one hopes that “Vladimir Vladimirovich is a good friend of Joseph Josephovich” is less toe-curling and insultingly patronising than it reads.
Worryingly, though, Blatter has “started to learn Russian & I’m trying to get the right accent as I promised to speak Russian at the World Cup.” Does he believe he’ll be making speeches in 2018? As Fifa president?
As for the European trio. Uefa vetoed “the reforms we started in 2011,” the ones to be overseen by, among others, that great reformer of South-East Asia, Henry Kissinger. Blatter did everything by what passes for a book at Fifa regarding Platini’s controversial, gentlemanly-agreed, nine years delayed two million Swiss Francs payment.
Oh…and Blatter “should have had the courage” to step down after the 2014 World Cup finals. But “other confederations were afraid that Uefa will take over…because they have the money and the players” (a genuine fear, unfairly belittled or overlooked by many reform campaigners).
Apparently, “five of the six confederations asked me at the 2014 Congress in Sao Paulo, ‘please stay as president,’” which infers that he had told them he was going, something which avoided press scrutiny. Of course this is a version of another Blatter song: “People are asking me to stay.” How often will we hear that before February 2016?
There was one last dig at Platini. Looking to his “successor,” Blatter suggested that the “140 National Associations” which “cannot exist without Fifa” want “somebody who goes on with the same idea that football is not only the Champions League” and that “most of the candidates would like to go on with the development of football.” Most? “With the exception of Platini.” Of course.
Blatter has since taken sideswipes at Fifa’s American sponsors and acting Uefa president Angel Maria Villar (the latter under the disturbing, Daily Mash-style headline Blatter fingers Villar in Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca). However, Platini remained in most need of a right to reply. Handily…
Platini’s Telegraph Tale
Platini sure gave the ‘arrogant Frenchman stereotype’ a turbo-powered boost in his Daily Telegraph interview, with Matt Scott. This was another chance to address the two million Swiss Francs payment, Blatter’s revelation of which landed Platini in his current bother. And after too many false starts, he finally, sort of, got a story straight. However, this was alongside his irony-free declaration that “I am, in all humility, the most able to run world football.”
Demonstrating that not all the lessons he learned from Blatter disintegrated with their friendship, Platini sensed a conspiracy. “People want to prevent me running because they know that I have every chance of winning,” he began, in “all humility” again, I’m guessing. “I have the impression they don’t want a former player running Fifa as they don’t want to put football in footballers’ hands.”
The way Trinidad ex-player David Nakhid’s bid collapsed the day after the nominations deadline has fuelled the theorists of such conspiracies. But Platini has everything to overcome whatever fences he has to jump, once he jumps the thousand-metre-high fence of the Ethics Committee.
“I am the only one who has a 360-degree view of football…(as) a player, a coach of the French national team, a director of a club with Nancy, an organiser of a World Cup &, right now, the boss of the most powerful confederation,” he declared. That he was a better player than coach or powerful confederation boss wasn’t explored. That wasn’t why this interview was arranged.
Platini claimed the above was “a journey I have achieved with honesty,” one for never-knowingly-Francophone Telegraph readers to ponder. But his central response to the payment allegations was highly pertinent: “Do you know many people who get their money from a so-called black-box (secret) account who pay their National Insurance on that money & then declare it to the taxman?”
He also detailed the chronology, legal standing and people involved in negotiating, authorising and processing the payment, systematically refuting each accusation levelled at him since his suspension.
If he is lying, it should be straightforward matter to expose those lies or discredit Platini. For instance: “Financial Director, Markus Kattner, made the payment on the basis of a proper invoice.” Kattner is currently Fifa’s Secretary-General. He has the stage if necessary.
And Platini’s claim that accusations of a bribery motive for the payment “aren’t based on anything” is at least partly correct. The timing of the payment, weeks before the 2011 Fifa presidential election but years after the work for which it was paid, hints at impropriety. In attempted mitigation Platini admits he was mistaken to “let several years go by. I had faith in the word of the Fifa president” (mistaken again) & I knew he would pay me one day.”
Likewise, the lack of associated paperwork. “I was always assured that the payment had followed internalcompliance rules at Fifa,” Platini noted, perhaps naively assuming that Fifa had any. And it has taken him too long to get his story straight. But hard evidence of punishable conduct? Not yet, at least not in public.
And Platini knows it. “There is manifestly a disproportion between the facts that I am accused of and the extent of the provisional suspension I have been hit with. This suspension prevents me from campaigning and fighting on an equal footing,” he said, highlighting that “the organisation which validated and proceeded with the payment suspended me four years later” for just that payment.
Fifa interviews must include fruitloop metaphors, though. Blatter had boats. Platini had “the sense of being a knight from the Middle Ages, in front of a castle. I am trying to get in to bring football back, but instead I’m having boiling oil poured on my head.” Manifestly proportionate punishment for such imagery, you might think.
Platini certainly has Scott convinced. In an Inside World Football website blog, Scott examines Platini’s claims and concludes that “to suggest he took the money as payment not to run (against Blatter for president) is based on assumption alone.”
Scott admits Platini is “absolutely not free from flaws.” And Platini was noticeably reluctant to discuss most of his 12 years on Fifa’s ExCo. However Scott, a rightly-respected football politics and finance journalist since authoring the Guardian newspaper’s ”Digger” column, believes that “if this is the best his enemies in the Fifa establishment can find out about him…he does not deserve to be banned.”
That might yet be a big “if,” of course. And if Platini’s presidential bid could yet be a big “if only.”
If the Great Fire of London had been as slow a burner as Conway’s BBC interview with Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, it might still be raging.
There was only one topic on which we wanted to hear the Asian Confederation president. The on-going, ever-increasing allegations of his role identifying footballers involved in Bahraini pro-democracy protests in 2011, many of whom (150 is the most commonly-quoted figure) were subsequently imprisoned and/or tortured.
The 15-minutes on the BBC Sport website is not the full interview. Some of the quotes in Conway’s accompanying article do not feature. And, more frustratingly, the audio and video fades out with Salman ranting at the above allegations. To judge by what we did hear from him, however, this edit may have done him a favour. His attempt to discredit the allegations was rank embarrassing enough to make the Beeb’s evening news bulletin.
Salman’s visible irritation at Conway’s introduction of the allegations, which could hardly have surprised him, edged closer to rage (two notches higher on the “baring of teeth” index) when Conway referenced the “committee” to identify protesting athletes, which surfaced during journalistic trawls through Bahrain’s official government news service archives this week.
When he said “Richard, let me be very clear on that,” it was very clear that he would not be very clear at all. “Again,” he snarled, “people are talking about a committee identifying players. Do you think people would need to identify a national team player? Do I need to get involved? It’s like the chair of the FA being asked ‘please can you identify David Beckham or Steven Gerrard?’.”
It was a terrible analogy. Not all 150 players identified would have been national team players, unless Bahrain managers were desperately unsure of their best XI. And non-football fans among the relevant authorities might well have needed players identified. Indeed, so bad was his defence that it required a subsequent clarification statement.
Salman urged his opponents “to be more creative,” advice he should have taken himself. Conway resembled a cross between Elvis Costello (ask your Dad) and an adult Joe 90 (ask him again). And some of his close-ups terrifyingly dominated the screen. But Salman’s lack of…well…creativity didn’t help.
The interview was clearly part of Salman’s presidential bid launch. So the early exchanges would only have been interesting had Salman responded to Conway’s call for an update on his candidacy with: “Nah. Don’t fancy it.”
Matters didn’t improve. Having failed to distance himself from his own alleged past, he at least distanced himself from Fifa’s (“I only joined Fifa in 2013”). But he got repetitive about Fifa’s need for “professional people…from within football,” because they have to “know the game” and be trusted. Cue more hollow laughter worldwide.
And he then got more repetitive still: “There is a different way of doing things and this is the change we have to bring to Fifa, with a new image and a new way of doing things, differently than before…we are different people…I run things in a different way…” and so on, for ages. “The Platitudinists’ platitudinist” I noted when Conway asked how the Fifa ExCo’s powers should be changed and Salman said: “For the good of all.”
He largely avoided pertinent questions about supporting Blatter in May and his subsequent support for Platini. On Platini, he merely said: “Michel has the right to defend himself and he’s innocent until proven guilty.” 150 Bahraini footballers may have a view on that. And on Blatter, he said: “……..”
The Swiss gnome would have approved. And for all Salman’s protestations of difference, he could not have sounded more Blatter-esque than when he swept away Fifa’s past: “How many people are involved in football, one billion, two billion? Are all of them correct or genuine? There are always some bad ones here or there.” Yes, Salman. In the president’s office for a start.
Back to Blatter
OK, maybe my sense of Blatter’s remaining influence approaches paranoia…or passed it three stops ago. But when Blatter told Tass: “If God is with me, I do hope that I’ll be back as president of FIFA,” he meant only for next February’s elective congress. Didn’t he?
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