Evening Standard

Hanging on: President Sepp Blatter insisted there was no crisis at FIFA in a heated press conference yesterday. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, has always been a showman. As a child he liked nothing better than to go to the pantomime.

Blatter first announced himself to the world when as a 35 year old, back in 1971, he became President of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders whose mission statement was that it regretted “women replacing suspenders with pantyhose”.

Some years ago he even confessed that the only thing he did not like about his job as president of FIFA was that he could no longer attend the World Cup draw. This was his job as general secretary and nothing excited him as much as drawing the various coloured balls from the glass bowls in front of a live worldwide television audience.

But even by his standards his response to the greatest crisis FIFA have faced proves that both he and the organisation remain anchored to a world view which makes Alice in Wonderland look like hard reality.

And if Blatter’s press conference yesterday here was not proof enough, refusing to accept there was a crisis and ending with the president lecturing the world’s press on how to behave elegantly, delegates to FIFA’s Congress gathering today will be literally ushered in the fantasy world. They will be serenaded into the hall by Grace Jones, the Jamaican-American singer declaring her love for the game.

But, perhaps, the real pointer to the parallel world FIFA exist in comes in the sheaf of documents the delegates will receive as they arrive.

Among them will be one entitled Football for Hope, every page of which is the sort of unwitting parody of the FIFA crisis that the creators of Monty Python would have been proud of.

The first page has a picture of Blatter with Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the UN with Annan saying football improves “health and education for world’s children and prevents HIV Aids”. Blatter declares that football has “unique appeal and core values that reach across generations” and “football is and needs to remain a school for life”.

Inside, FIFA describe the good they bring to the world which includes bringing together Palestinian and Israeli children between the ages of 6 and 14 together. FIFA’s great role in the other trouble spots of the world like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are also highlighted.

There is even mention of the United Kingdom’s Street League built as it, say FIFA “on the principles of inclusiveness, sustainability and diversity, with the aim of promoting healthy life styles, social integration, crime reduction, non-formal education and long term employment”.

All this is capped by FIFA’s partners, adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai, Sony and Visa declaring how “football for Hope is a movement that uses the power of the game for social development and it is led by FIFA and streetfootball world.”

As the delegates feast on this wonder world of football why should they not agree with Blatter that there is no crisis just a little local difficulty?

Blatter is aware that FIFA’s fantasy world can be sustained because of the intricate web he has spun marrying mammon to the world game.

This has created a worldwide alliance where money generated from the World Cup subsidises many other FIFA events, such as under 17 and under 19 tournaments, beach football and various forms of women’s football.

None makes any money. However, they are held in countries which could never hope to stage the World Cup. It gives them a sense of belonging, provides them money and by catering to their needs Blatter has built an enormous worldwide vote bank.

Its use comes in very handy when the much trumpeted FIFA family meet for their Congress sessions. Then the vote bank always delivers for Blatter fearful if he goes this whole fantasy world may finally collapse.

And that remains the expectation despite an almost injury time attempt by the Football Association to move that tomorrow’s election be postponed.

There has been some talk of such a move particularly among the Europeans but the FA have been the only one bold enough to break ranks.

However, talking to FIFA delegates, it is by no means certain that this measure will succeed. Indeed one high- placed source, and a man who knows both FIFA and the FA well, told me: “The FA is putting its neck on the block. It will have to stand up when the Congress opens tomorrow and propose that the agenda of the Congress be disregarded and the election postponed. That will require a two-thirds majority and it is difficult to see the FA getting anything like that.

“I fear this will be very like that moment in Seoul in 2002 when Adam Crozier (then FA chief executive) stood up and denounced Blatter. Hours later Blatter was re-elected with a thumping majority. I expect him to be re-elected tomorrow by acclamation.”

Interestingly, I understand the FA’s move has been made independently of the other three home nations. They have not declared their public position but are expected to favour both the elections going ahead and Blatter carrying on.

That shows how well Blatter has built a fantasy world where almost everything is reversed yet delegates from around the world have no problems believing wrong is right.


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