On Sepp Blatter & his comments on racism

Blatter: more controversy (Picture: AsianFC)

 “There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards the other, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that, he should say it’s a game, we are in a game. At the end of the game, we shake hands, this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.” – Sepp Blatter on CNN.

“During a match you may make a movement to somebody, or may something to somebody… but at the end of the match it is forgotten… on the field of play I deny that there is racism.” – Sepp Blatter on Al Jazeera.

Sepp Blatter has been embroiled in a fair amount of controversies in his time as FIFA president but none have caused such widespread uproar – particularly from those actually in the game – as his comments on racism have.

It is fair to say that the timing here is poor given the ongoing investigation into John Terry’s comments to Anton Ferdinand and the recent charge of Luis Suarez. To completely deny the existence of racism in football at a time when there are so many allegations flying around is rather odd.
However, not once does Blatter say that racism is acceptable – he actually says that allegations should be investigated and, if necessary, appropriate action should be taken. To say that Blatter is a racist or accepts racism is wide of the mark; he is, as many – most brilliantly Rio Ferdinand– have pointed out, plainly ignorant.
This might not be all that surprising of a man who is 75-years-old and so maybe doesn’t quite grasp discrimination in the modern age. But then, as Philippe Auclair quite magnificently put it, there are plenty of people of a similar age to Blatter who don’t make such offensive remarks – “cretins have no age”.
And, to that, if Blatter is so out-of-touch, then surely it is time he was replaced as leader of a game that is going through some very modern day problems?
Some of the comments from Blatter – or at least Blatter’s office – after the furore that inevitably erupted, though, have been slightly worrying. He at first said that there had been a misunderstanding:

“What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have “battles” with your opponents, and sometimes things are done which are wrong. But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.”

Baring in mind that Blatter made practically identical comments to both Al Jazeera and CNN, it is hard to believe that this is a ‘misunderstanding’. Rather, it is a thought-out, considered opinion that will have surely been run through a PR team before being heard by the world. Experienced leaders who work in political environments day-in, day-out do not make utterances off the cuff – they think about them deeply beforehand and, where possible, make basic, stale statements so as to not cause offence. Here, Blatter hasn’t done that: he’s set out to make a point, and managed to offend an awful lot of people in spectacular fashion.
The official FIFA statement also said: “I also know that racism unfortunately continues to exist in football, and I have never denied this,” despite – in both interviews – denying the existence of racism in football on the pitch. Blatter’s minions (he doesn’t run his own Twitter account, surely?) then expressed on Twitter that, “in general, there is [not] racism on the field of play”. So, which is it? It definitely doesn’t happen, as he first claimed, or it doesn’t happen in general, which suggests it does happen?
Most commenters chose to lead on Blatter’s point regarding the handshake. Footballers have argued for years that what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, but racism is clearly different. He seems to also go on to say that racism from fans or anywhere else but the pitch is different to on-field racism due to the ‘heat of the moment’.
This is of course is utter nonsense. If, in the heat of the moment, you can’t control yourself to such an extent that you racially abuse someone then you really shouldn’t be putting yourself into that moment.  Whether that is in a professional environment or not is irrelevant.
The two interviews have lead to new calls for Blatter to step aside, with the PFA’s Gordon Taylor calling for his resignation while many footballers and managers have spoken out – which, it has to be said, makes a nice change. Ferdinand, Ashley Williams, Jason Roberts, Emmanuel Frimpong (kind of) and Tony Pulis have all had their say and have rightly condemned the comments.
Some may see the uproar over these comments as something of an overreaction given that Blatter did actually condemn racism but his comments are at best ignorant and at worst extremely condescending and offensive. The worrying thing is that Blatter can so easily brush this sort of problem under the carpet – unless he resigns, absolutely nothing will change.
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