Perhaps it was a reflection upon the cynical age in which we live rather than anything else, but there was a current of disbelief that followed the announcement made by Sepp Blatter at the start of this month that he would not be seeking to continue as the President of FIFA beyond its next congress. Many onlookers were not persuaded by his grand speech in Zurich, and considerable time was spent by some looking for the “get out” in his speech, the line or lines that he could fall back upon come the end of the year, when he suddenly and completely (un)expectedly finds himself in a position in which it would, somehow or other, become impossible for him to not stand for a further four years.
It’s been four weeks since Blatter pulled this rabbit out of his hat, and since then news of his future intentions has been mixed, to say the least. On the one hand, just last weekend Blatter told the Swiss newspaper Walliser Bote that “I am not a candidate, but the elected president, and I want to hand over FIFA in good condition,” which sounds fairly conclusive, but on the other, Klaus Stöhlker, an adviser to Blatter during his re-election campaign in 2015, told the Guardian that Blatter would reconsider standing down “if there was no other viable candidate.” When we consider that Blatter promised that his election in 2011 would be his last, only to renege on that promise, those who are making the claim that the old man has further tricks up his sleeve in order to dupe the masses start to sound less like conspiracy theorists than they might otherwise do.
When the news first broke, it was greeted with understandable glee by many. It was what a lot of people desperately wanted to hear, and the feeling that came with it was compounded by the fact that it was so unexpected. Most people with much knowledge of the inner machinations of FIFA believed that Blatter would seek to cling onto power for as long as he could, jettisoning those who had outlived their usefulness as he saw fit, as and when they became liabilities. Indeed, it has long felt as if the entire structure of FIFA, with its numerous vice-presidents cocooned away in the organisation’s Strangelove-esque boardroom, was tailor-made to offer as much of a buffer as possible for El Presidente himself.
We should all know by now, however, the contempt with which FIFA’s senior management treats its critics, as well as the frequently staggering levels of arrogance that the organisation has built up over the years. And no matter how chastening we may have believed the FBI-orchestrated events of the last few weeks would be for those who had gotten away with so much for so long, it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to suggest that such behaviour is difficult to unlearn, and that it is as likely that anything approximating genuine contrition over what has long believed to be widespread corruption was likely to be little more than crocodile tears being shed as a crude exercise in public relations.
It never felt as if the wave of contrition that FIFA would like us to believe swept through it was aimed in the direction of anybody so lowly as us mere supporters, though. At those who were investigating them? Quite likely. At corporate sponsors, whose clear edginess spoke a language that FIFA may just have been able to understand? Highly likely. At supporters, though? Well, perhaps the best way to answer this is merely to remind ourselves of the fact that this is the organisation that sentenced all concerned to the beyond sweltering midsummer temperatures of Qatar in 2022. They’ve seldom given too much impression of being interested in our best interests in recent years – why should they now? For all of this, though, it would ill-serve anybody at FIFA – up to and including Blatter himself – to attempt semantic contortions over the exact wording of Blatter’s speech. Let’s briefly remind ourselves of exactly what he said:
While I have a mandate from the membership of FIFA, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football. Therefore, I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA president until that election.
It’s far from implausible that this obfuscation is largely deliberate. In recent years, the schism between UEFA and FIFA has become a chasm, and there are a good many within other confederations who will likely top at nothing to prevent the Europeans from taking control of the organisation. They have good reason to do so. Those acting for UEFA are the voices of the financially secure, most of the biggest and /or wealthiest clubs sides in the world, and just the World Cup alone is now a big enough cash cow to be worthy of the attention of those for whom, in a financial sense at least, enough is never quite enough. What better way to stop a united front between interested parties from beginning to form ahead of the next Presidential election than by pushing and prodding at tensions that exist within UEFA itself?After all, eighteen European nations voted for Sepp Blatter just last month. Michel Platini voted for the 2022 World Cup to go to Qatar.
There are most likely no genuine “white knights” with the inclination to run global professional football with integrity. It’s considerably more likely that there are only different factions jostling to get as wide a place at the trough as they can. This, however, shouldn’t be seen as a vindication of Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, or any of the other cast of ne’er do wells who make international professional football in the twenty-first century so fundamentally unlovable, and if a storm of opprobrium was unleashed upon them concerning the issues over corruption and the vote that re-elected Sepp Blatter at the end of May, they should prepare for a tsunami in the event of any attempt to to stitch up the next FIFA presidential election.
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