|File - FIFA's president Sepp Blatter watches a Euro 2012 Group D qualifying soccer match between Romania and France at the National Arena of Bucharest, in this file photo Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011. With several top footballers facing allegations of hurling racial abuse at opponents on the pitch, FIFA President Sepp Blatter sparked an angry reaction on Wednesday Nov. 16, 2011, by suggesting that players involved in such incidents could settle the matter with a simple handshake. (AP Photo / Thanassis Stavrakis, file)|
Column: Blame Blatter? Blame soccer, too
"Resign!" howled Sepp Blatter's critics in England after the FIFA boss spouted ill-timed and offensive views on racism in soccer.
Easy. Too easy.
It's the sort of thing many people would agree with. But simply saying something is unpleasant doesn't make it go away.
That takes action. And, in that regard, soccer has failed. Miserably.
It is soccer's own fault that Blatter is still in charge, still able to dismay and infuriate from FIFA's glass fortress in Switzerland.
Those who run the global game, the soccer federation officials around the world who, ultimately, are Blatter's electorate, have had umpteen reasons to ditch him or call for his head before this latest episode. But they've stuck by him.
So they shoulder responsibility for giving a platform to his views, too. Remember: FIFA member countries awarded Blatter a fourth four-year term just five months ago despite bribery allegations, ugly internal politicking and match-fixing and corruption cases in the sport that have shredded the credibility of soccer's governing body and the men who lead it.
Not only did the fawning FIFA congress allow Blatter to stand unopposed, it gave him 91 percent of the vote. The regime in North Korea couldn't have done much better. There are no courageous rebels leading an Arab Spring uprising in soccer and none on the horizon, either.
One reason is money.
Under Blatter, FIFA has raked in mounds of the stuff. It has built financial reserves of more than $1 billion. It has the cash-cow World Cup. It sits atop a giant of a sport that is still growing in popularity, especially in promising markets in Asia and the Middle East.
One of Blatter's tricks during his nearly 14 years as FIFA president has been to ensure that gravy is spread around. Tens of millions of dollars in soccer development money doled out here, special $550,000 bonuses for all FIFA member associations in 2010 there. Seats on FIFA committees for the favored.
The former amateur soccer player is also a proven master of keeping friends and enemies close. It is a testimony to Blatter's power, to his people and management skills, and to inertia and acceptance within soccer that even at the end of this year of atrocious headlines for FIFA, there appears to be so little appetite at the top of the sport to question Blatter's leadership or methods.
Clearly, judging from his subsequent efforts to extract both feet from his mouth, Blatter realized that he wasn't clever to say this week in television interviews that racism isn't an issue on soccer fields. Even worse, he suggested that players who are victims of racist slurs should simply shake hands with and forgive their abusers at the end of a match.
That Blatter could blithely voice such absurdities when police and soccer officials in England are investigating two cases of on-field alleged racist abuse between players in the Premier League made the FIFA president look willfully insensitive and hopelessly out of touch.
When Blatter later backtracked with a statement acknowledging that "racism unfortunately continues to exist in football," FIFA's website published it with a 2009 photo of him embracing Tokyo Sexwale, a South African government minister and former Robben Island prisoner. How clumsy. All that was missing was a caption reading, "Look, Blatter likes black people and they like him!"
But where was the subsequent outpouring of shock and anger from the global game? Didn't happen. Soccer federations around the world were hardly lining up to distance themselves from Blatter. Aside from Britain, where Sports Minister Hugh Robertson declared, "For the sake of the game, he should go," the FIFA president's comments didn't seem to cause much of a ripple from soccer authorities. Many said nothing.
Blatter hasn't seen a need to step aside over any of the numerous corruption allegations that have undermined faith in FIFA and his leadership.
He didn't see fit to slink off for calling on female soccer players to wear "tighter shorts" in 2004 or for making light of the strict laws against homosexuality in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.
He's not going to resign now.
Of course, the great global game of soccer should have a forward-looking, scrupulously honest, modern, transparent, humble, open and intelligent leader.
It has Blatter. Who's fault is that? The easy route is to say he should go. The more constructive one would be if those with power in soccer actually did something about it.