London Evening Standard

One of the great ironies of Sepp Blatter’s spectacular fall is that it is the authorities of the country he worked so hard to convert to football that have brought about his downfall.

Blatter was central to the organisation of the 1994 World Cup in the USA and is believed to have voted for them to host the 2022 tournament, while he appeared as shocked as the rest of us when the Gulf state won the right to host the biggest sporting event on the planet.

What Blatter did not realise until last Wednesday, when Swiss police acting on behalf of the US authorities arrested seven FIFA officials, was that the entire bidding process which led to Russia and Qatar winning their respective  bids had released forces he could not control.

The man who has been the master sports politician of our times had finally met a higher force and had no option but to surrender.

One factor that led Blatter to fall on his sword was his misguided assumption that he runs the Vatican equivalent of sport with himself cast in the role of the Pope. He was always proud of the  fact that FIFA had 209 nations, more than the United Nations, and in his moments of hubris could also say that FIFA were more important than  religion.

‘Good riddance’: Europe’s media reacts as Sepp Blatter stands down ‘Got him, Good riddance, cornered’ – Europe’s media reacts as Blatter resigns

Nobody who followed Blatter’s endless visits in his private jet to various countries and being received royally could miss the fact that he viewed himself as on a par with heads of state.

Ultimately, however, with so much more evidence of FIFA corruption to come, he was just another football official in a suit who was not immune to observing the law to which we are all subject.

Blatter was convinced he was untouchable, thanks largely to the officials who run football around the world, and particularly those in Asia, Africa and south and central America. The result was Blatter could say the most amazing things and be hailed as a seer. This was graphically illustrated on Friday, when in his election address to the FIFA Congress he suddenly sounded like Stephen Hawking and asked: “What is time?”

This was an attempt to justify the fact that, even at the age of 79, he had no reason to retire, saying: “My time with you has been short. I want to spend more time with you.”

In any other assembly this would have pointed to a deluded old man but the hall in Zurich burst into applause.

And that applause shows that while Blatter will leave FIFA, many of those who run football are his disciples so the idea that his toxic legacy has been extinguished is fanciful. Indeed, this legacy will influence who may take over from Blatter.

In the six or so months that Blatter has left with FIFA, he will almost certainly work hard to ensure that his successor is not from Europe — and certainly not Michel Platini.

He also has a desire to see the top job go to someone who isn’t white. Blatter once told me he sees himself not as European but as a man of the world and delivering a non-white face as the head of world football would be, in  his eyes, his greatest legacy. On paper, Platini, who turned down the job in 1998 to help Blatter get the presidency, is the obvious successor. It would mean the head of European football, the most powerful confederation in world football, once again run FIFA for the time since 1974, when Blatter’s mentor, the Brazilian Joao Havelange, took over.

However, there is a doubt as to whether Platini wants the job and the pressures it brings. Should he take over at Zurich he will almost certainly not be the sort of imperial president Blatter has been.

To win he will also have to make sure he carries all of Europe. As was evident from Friday’s vote which re-elected Blatter, several European countries voted for Blatter. They were said to include Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and even Platini’s own France. Some, like Italy, because they personally like Blatter. In the case of Russia, there was the added factor that they feel grateful to Blatter for helping them win 2018.

And this where we in England need to temper our hopes of the wonderful world that might open up in a post Blatter world. The idea that the World Cup would be taken away from Russia in 2018 and given to England would be a pipe dream.

Platini, like that other great footballer who voted in the 2018 and 2022  bids, Franz Beckenbauer, both support Russia, arguing that as the world’s largest country it should have got the right to stage the World Cup. Platini  needs to carry UEFA and their 53 votes if he is to defeat any Blatter-sponsored candidate who might emerge, most likely from Asia.

But even if Platini is elected it does not follow that FIFA will look again at Qatar’s right to stage the 2022 World Cup. Platini himself voted for Qatar while privately advising them that it should be held in winter. Greg Dyke, the FA chairman,  may call for that vote to be looked at but unless the Swiss authorities who are investigating the bid come up a smoking gun and prove there was vote-buying by Qatar, this is unlikely.

Blatter’s departure will renew calls for a root and branch reform of FIFA. But this will not be easy. It will be resisted by Blatter’s supporters — don’t forget 133 FIFA members voted for him to remain as president last week  —  who will still see him as the King over the water and who refuse to accept there is anything fundamentally wrong with FIFA.

We in England can see that FIFA need to have proper corporate governance but many in world football see this as an Anglo-Saxon world view, if not conspiracy, and even not all Europeans echo Dyke’s call for full-scale reform.

And this is where the FA and Dyke’s future course of action become critical. While American investigation brought down Blatter, the relentless investigation by the British press started the process. But while we can take great pride in that it would be a mistake to think the rest of the world feels any gratitude for the British. If anything there is resentment about the British taking a high-moral attitude and a great deal of murmurings about how the British ran their bids. This means Dyke and the FA cannot take a holier than thou attitude.

Blatter may have gone but his legacy remains and he has many staunch supporters in FIFA who will resist any attempt to tinker with what they see as a wonderful inheritance.


Share |
Categories: Football | No Comments »



Latest Tweets

Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo