Blatter-battering: a bad case of sour grapes
English football’s administrators cannot compute that it was their own failings, not FIFA corruption, that lost the 2018 World Cup bid.
Up went the cry on Twitter: ‘Let’s get #BlatterOut trending.’ And, hey presto, the Twittersphere was soon awash with Blatter-bashing tweets.
‘Even if you consider that FIFA lives in an ivory tower, you could not help but notice the clamour around the world for change at the moment’, declared UK sports minister Hugh Robertson. Was this a football revolution in the making? Was it ‘Global Soccer’s Arab Spring’, as one US journalist put it? I’m sorry Blatter batterers, but the answer is ‘No’.
The problem with Twitter is that, when a topic starts trending, it’s easy to lose all sense of perspective. Just because #BlatterOut is being retweeted to kingdom come, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the world gives a damn. Just because the story has dominated the English news agenda all week, it doesn’t mean that every other nation’s news values are so distorted. The FIFA crisis, as David Hytner observed in the Guardian, merited ‘only modest disapproval in Europe’s press’. As one Italian sports journalist put it: ‘Football politics only interest people who are interested in football politics, and there are not many of them.’
The Sun headline ‘Despot the difference’, which equated Sepp Blatter with Colonel Gaddafi, typifies our mangled priorities. For pity’s sake, this is a governing body of a sport we’re talking about here. It’s akin to the split in the British Darts Organisation in the early Nineties. In other words: Just Not That Important. It’s a sign of the inflated significance of football – allied with the inflated self-importance of the media and the Twitterati – that an internecine dispute between sports administrators should be elevated to the status of a major diplomatic incident.
Much of the anti-Blatter campaign is laughable and self-serving. Many English tweeters have turned on Blatter simply because of England’s failed 2018 World Cup bid. Allegations of bribery and corruption have surrounded FIFA for years. But, until the spectacular failure of England’s bid, there was little self-righteous clamour for reform of FIFA in this country. ‘Blatter out’, we now cry, without the faintest idea about who should replace him. ‘Clean up FIFA’, we demand, even though we know little about the internal machinations of the organisation. All we know is that, if a charm offensive fronted by David Beckham and Prince William doesn’t work, if we’ll never see a World Cup on English soil in our lifetime, then something must be rotten in the state of world football.
Among those leading the scramble for the high moral ground is the English Football Association. Yes, that’s right, the same English FA that many fans and pundits wouldn’t trust to run a chip shop. The FA proposed a motion at this week’s FIFA congress seeking to delay the presidential election. Does the FA have much clout within FIFA? Do the maths yourselves: England’s 2018 bid received just two votes while the FA proposal to delay the election was defeated by 172 votes to 17. In other words, bugger all influence.
The English aren’t much loved among FIFA’s senior executives for two reasons. Firstly, Blatter and his cronies aren’t enamoured by the excessive power wielded by the big Premier League clubs. Secondly, Britain’s colonial past hasn’t been entirely forgotten. ‘There is a hangover from the days of empire’, said former FA director David Davies in The Times (London). This lingering animosity was perfectly illustrated by Argentine FA president Julio Goronda, who described the English as ‘pirates’ and supposedly told the bid team: ‘If you give back the Falkland Islands, which belong to us, you will get my vote.’
The English FA has always maintained a somewhat aloof and sniffy attitude towards FIFA. The FA, let’s not forget, refused to enter teams in the first two World Cup tournaments. The perception of English arrogance hasn’t gone away. Mike Lee, who advised the Qatar bid team, was critical of the English bid team’s approach. ‘At times, the bid sounded like Little Englanders’, Lee told the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee. ‘Even the presentation in Zurich said to the rest of the world: “We think we’re the best”, and that’s how the message comes across when we talk to the rest of world about football and other sport.’
The FA’s motion to the FIFA congress was always doomed to failure. Why? Because the English still remain largely disengaged from the FIFA ‘family’. There is little English representation on the various FIFA committees. It is here that relationships are built and alliances forged. It’s all very well railing against corruption but, unless the English are prepared to play the game and put in the legwork on the committees, we will never exercise significant influence within the organisation.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of Sepp Blatter. There are plenty of reasons for wanting rid of the old codger: the FIFA edict that players should be booked for removing their shirts; the tinkering with the offside law to the point of incomprehensibility; football’s gradual transformation into a non-contact sport. But a ‘Blatter Out’ campaign which consists of unproven corruption claims plus a great vatful of English sour grapes is a recipe for failure.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.