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.

FIFA, Qatar and an obvious lack of evidence

FIFA plan to take the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. You know the story – developing nation seeks help so is given football tournament that generates billions for both the hosts and FIFA themselves and, as is the case with Qatar, social and political changes will be forthwith.

According to Hassan al-Thawadi in David Conn’s excellent interview with the executive of Qatar’s bid, the Qatar bid team plan to spend $4-5 billion on stadiums, nine of which will be built with three more remodelled. By 2030, $150 billion will be spent on transport and other infrastructure.
As al-Thawadi himself says, “so much good can come out of this World Cup” and, yes, an awful lot of good could come from hosting football’s premier tournament in Qatar. But what if it doesn’t help? What if football fans go to Qatar in 2022 and are victims of discrimination, be it because they are homosexual or even female? How will FIFA justify that? It hopefully won’t happen, but the risk is there and, right now, there’s no evidence to suggest that that risk is going to disappear any time soon.
Al-Thawadi hopes that the process of improving human rights – amongst other things in their “nation-building” exercise – will be “accelerated” by the World Cup coming to town which, again, is fantastic – ifit happens. And that’s a monumental “if”.
The 32-year-old then makes a very fair comparison with the reaction towards Qatar’s bid and that of Russia, who will host the 2018 version of the competition. Like Qatar, Russia has it’s problems – although perhaps not on the same scale – as racism is particularly rife. Again, FIFA hope that bringing football to them, on their doorsteps, with plenty of black footballers playing in their stadiums, will change Russia, which it perhaps will. But, the same, simple question persists – what if it doesn’t? What if black players go to that World Cup and are victims of racial abuse?
The comparison, though, is fair, although somewhat deflective and not really an answer to the various questions being asked by football fans and journalists all over the world. Al-Thawadi cites that there may be an anti-Arab prejudice coming from critics of their bid. I don’t think there is (there could be) but, again, it’s avoiding the question, it’s playing the race card to get out of a tricky situation.
It’s similar to the argument of “you’re only bitter because you didn’t get the World Cup”; actually, no, the majority of English football fans would rather see two things happen before we host the World Cup (in no particular order): 1) win the damn thing, or at least actually put in some decent performances at a national tournament for once; and 2) see a full and proper investigation into allegations of corruption within FIFA.
An investigation that, dismayingly, just isn’t happening. Al-Thawadi makes various assertions that are all very heart-warming and perhaps believable on the surface, but they are all complete non-statements; they don’t actually mean anything:
“Even if we had wanted to do anything improper, which we did not, we could not risk it because if it ever came out, the reputation of our whole country would be in tatters, the absolute opposite to what we are trying to achieve.” This is the equivalent of saying ‘I couldn’t of taken that woman’s handbag because I have a reputation to uphold. Come on now, you must believe me?’ There’s nothing to back it up, just his word which really isn’t enough considering the context.
He goes on: “my country’s reputation and my bid’s reputation is being sullied, tarnished, because of these allegations”. “We have nothing to hide and we did nothing wrong.” Ok then, prove it.
“Why do I have to prove my innocence when there is not a shred of evidence? Why should we have an investigation if no other country has one?”
Sorry, what? There are serious allegations against your bid team and an organisation that you have worked with and you want to know why you should prove your innocence? That’s kind of the point of the law. You prove that you’re innocent or the law enforcers – whoever they may be – prove that you’re guilty, or innocent.
And do you know why there’s not a shred of evidence? Not because there isn’t any, not because it’s impossible to find any; it’s because no one wants to look – no one of any importance, anyway.
“And what are you going to investigate? My books, my phone records, where I went, who I talked to, dig into my private life and everybody else’s, and everybody who came into contact with Qatar? … Where does it stop?”
Well if, as you say, you have “nothing to hide”, what would be the problem of inspecting every tiny detail of the bid? And the investigation stops when people are happy that there is no corruption and nothing murky about the bid whatsoever.
“I say stop the witch hunt and embrace the fact that this is a positive opportunity for the world. Look at the positive elements of a World Cup in the Middle East, especially in current circumstances.” Give us a reason to stop. And what about the negative elements of a World Cup in the Middle East, especially in current circumstances?
“At the moment there is not a sliver of evidence we did anything wrong.” That’s because there hasn’t been a proper investigation into either the Qatar bid or the actions of FIFA. Without an investigation, you won’t find any evidence. Without any evidence, the people who are going to play major roles in football in the next few years will keep pedalling these political, non-statements and get away with it.
The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is fine; the phrase “innocent because no one’s looking for evidence and therefore you cannot be proven guilty” is not fine. Something needs to be done; unfortunately, the very people who are investigating this are the very people who should be investigated, such is the crazy world of FIFA.