So we are here again. Blatter out. Blatter has to go. For anyone interested in the governance of the world’s most popular sport, it is a common moment. That this man has survived scandal after scandal demonstrates that he has a hold over his organisation that Saddam or Muammar could never achieve.
Of course the analogy is facetious; those dictators were able to consolidate power over a population of human beings who longed for freedom. While the situations may sound close enough to make a somewhat poor taste comparison, in truth football has proven time and time again that as long as there are huge profits to be had, it does not mind Sepp Blatter having to wet his beak a little.
But this time it does feel a little bit different. More than failing to hide his contempt for English football’s monetary power, or allegations of buying votes for re-election and selling World Cups, Blatter has seriously underestimated football’s commitment to eradicating racism. More than that, his comments may seem to actually encourage it, as long as we can all ‘shake hands’ afterwards. As Rio Ferdinand has tweeted, does that mean fans should be able to racially abuse players during a game as long as they clap them off the pitch?
The FIFA head’s disgraceful comments should be more than enough to necessitate his resignation, coming at a time when two Premier League footballers are accused of making racist insults to opponents and a top Brazilian player has had a banana thrown at him in Russia. For many though, the sheer level of outcry at Blatter’s latest scandal will come as a relief – having watched him escape too many sticky situations with a Gordon Brown-like conviction that he is the man to ‘save the world’ despite being the leader who oversaw most of the problems (his unopposed coronation this summer also being eerily reminiscent of the former PM).
The Change FIFA campaign, an international social media campaign to reform the perceived corruption in the body working with Damian Collins MP, has been encouraging fans and footballers alike to oppose Blatter’s administration. In light of the current race scandal, their efforts may finally begin to gain some traction. I am delighted to see Sports Minister Hugh Robertson MP has today called for Blatter’s resignation. He is joined by Gordon Taylor, Head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, and numerous players from around the world including Jason Roberts, Stan Collymore, Mark Bright, Arsenal’s young Emmanuel Frimpong and many more.
Corruption in a sport that has made itself into one of the world’s most lucrative private industries but bans teams whose governments try to get a sense of what is going on within the game is always a hard thing to prove, despite the amount of fan's hard earned wages and government funding for the grassroots that is pumped in globally. Blatter’s comments betraying his lack of respect for equality in sport are not.
Of all the many ridiculous reasons for awarding Qatar the World Cup, Blatter chose to make light of the fact that homosexual fans would not be permitted to attend the tournament under the country’s current laws. Now his most recent comments that racism doesn’t exist in the game should be a gaffe too far.
The fact that he and FIFA thought they could sweep the problem under the carpet with a ridiculous picture of the embattled Swiss hugging a black man tells you how seriously he takes the issue.
Many people in politics may not be interested in the game. But there are not many subjects that play a more important or daily role in many people’s lives. When something is so important to so many people throughout the world, it is time to pressure Mr. Blatter to do the right thing and make way for a real reformer.