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.

A wage cap in football

In a recent BBC documentary in which Lord Alan Sugar (kind of) tackled the financial problems in football, it was decided that the amount of money that a footballer earns is the main financial issue for football clubs. Sides such as Portsmouth (FA Cup winners in 2008) and West Ham (FA Cup runners-up in 2006) have both paid out high wages in pursuit of glory and, while they may have got it in the short-term, with turnover falling, the wages became too much to bear, with both sides being forced into a change of ownership and both now plying their trade in the Championship. Both sides have had to, and continue to, re-build.

To help pay the wages, clubs increase ticket prices, obtain lucrative sponsorship deals and, as is common in the modern game, receive vast sums of money (loans) from rich owners. A top-flight football club’s finances are tentatively balanced – one kind of income diminishing, or even vanishing, could make one expense unbearable.
The increase in wages isn’t exactly a new trend – since 1961 (when the maximum wage was abolished) the average weekly wage of a footballer has risen from £20 to £33,868. There are now players earning above £200,000-a-week in the English Premier League, and it is common for clubs in the top half of the league to pay even the most average of players at around £60,000-per-week. If wages continue to rise like this, it surely won’t be too long before we see the first £1 million-a-week player.
Of course, like transfer fees, wages don’t indicate a player’s worth; clubs will pay the amount they are happy to or can afford to pay and players (or rather, agents) will try and get as much money as they can. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Clearly, there’s a certain morality issue here but no one can really blame a footballer for taking more money – or trying to get more money – when it is obviously available to them.
You can blame the clubs to a certain extent as, once one club gives a player an obscene amount of money, other players are going to think they can get that amount too and, eventually, it all spirals out of control. You could also blame the people that run the game, be it on a worldwide level or national level, as they should, for the good of the game, be looking over the club’s shoulder to check that their finances are up to scratch and can therefore afford these wages. That’s not their priority – clubs should be able to run themselves without intervention from FIFA, UEFA or The FA – but it’s not something that football organisations can just brush away and say ‘it’s not our problem’.

‘Not my problem’
The trouble is, you can’t just impose a wage cap and be done with it. Players have mortgages, bills and wives to pay; their lives are structured around their earnings, just like the rest of the working population. I’m going to assume that footballers budget, or get someone else to budget for them; I can’t see Wayne Rooney sitting in front Microsoft Excel on a quiet evening, if I’m honest, but to take away a large chunk of his income straight away would surely cause him and his family problems as they struggle to pay for their £2.8 million house and god-knows-how-many cars.
A wage cap would have to be slowly integrated into the sport. One idea, then, would be for youngsters entering the sport to only ever earn a certain amount a week. This would mean that certain players would fall under a wage cap and others wouldn’t but, as time passes, those that earn obscene amounts will eventually retire, while clubs could be advised to lower their wages as much as possible right away.
There will of course be problems, mainly the fact that there will be quite a large wage gap, even between players at the same club. But again, by the end of process, wages would become standardised across the league, or maybe even across the world – although a system would have to be devised relating to a league’s income.
Players could earn more with more years in the game, i.e. experience-related pay, but even then their wage should be no more than a certain amount. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to suggest £50,000-a-week as being a ‘reasonable’ wage. It’s still obscene that a person can earn that much in a week, but I don’t think many fans would have to much of a problem with that sum when you consider a top-flight club’s income. And this, of course, could just be a starting block – the maximum wage could be lowered later on if need be.
People inside the game, and some outside of it, argue that the clubs have huge incomes and, because the players are ultimately the people who make them that money (without the players, there isn’t a football team), they are the ones who deserve a fair portion of the cash. To a certain extent, that’s true, and I don’t expect footballers to earn a ‘normal’ wage (although that wouldn’t be insupportable, would it?), they should just earn a ‘reasonable’ wage.

I think it’s fair to say that Stephen Ireland has too much money

And in any case, the initial income of a football club is sometimes a kind of effect of wages, as prices of tickets and merchandise rise to help fund the players – lower wages would mean lower prices, which would equal less money coming in but less money going out. It’s a vicious circle.
There’s also an argument to say that there would be a negative impact on the league on the whole, worsening the appeal of the Premier League both for the players and, therefore, sponsors. Without wanting to sound too old-fashioned, I think most fans would rather have players at their club who want to be there instead of those there purely for the money. Obviously the fact that they’re there purely for the money isn’t a problem in itself as the player could still work hard and give his all for the team – it’s when that effort diminishes that there’s an issue. The point is, a player should want to come to the club because of the club, not the money on offer. Plus, the appeal of the Premier League seems pretty insignificant when a club begins to struggle financially or, if the worse comes to worse, go into administration. 
There are legal issues with a maximum wage – which was the main factor for the abolishment of the original rule in 1961 – but something, without a doubt, needs to be done. The plan outlined above isn’t perfect and I’m sure financial experts (in case you haven’t guessed, I’m not one) will pick the bones out of it.
But the current scheme of allowing clubs to pay whatever they want for a player is extremely flawed, both in a football and morality sense. When a club throws caution to the wind and pays over-the-odds for players, that is of course their own fault and most clubs do have their own wage structures to prevent financial problems.
Yet still, no one appears to be taking the blame. No one appears to care that footballers earn more than they deserve and no one is there to help when a football club ruins itself under the burden of player wages. There maybe isn’t a perfect solution, but the situation is just going to get worse unless something is done.

Champions League final ticket prices are indefensible

Fancy going to the Champions League final? That’ll be £300, please..

Just as a side-note: it had to be lions, didn’t it?

“In everything that we do, football must always be the first and most important element that we take into consideration. Football is a game before being a product, a sport before being a market, a show before being a business.” – UEFA’s first of ‘eleven values’, which are listed on their official website. 

It was announced yesterday that, in order to be at Wembley for the Champions League final on 28th May, you will need to pay around £150. Yes, that’s one-hundred-and-fifty pounds for what is essentially a couple of hours of entertainment. The general public could be forced to pay up to £300 to go and see the crowning of the eventual European champions. Fans of the two finalists will only have to pay £80 each, and both finalists will be allocated 50,000 tickets. But that is still eighty pounds per-person. And that’s forgetting about the £26 booking fee, or “administration fee” as UEFA have decided to call it.
The international governing body, FIFA, have come in for a lot of critiscm recently regarding the way in which they run the game but it is UEFA, this time, who are concentrating on revenue rather than what they should be focusing on. It is quite clear that the governing bodies of football are not thinking about the fans. They are barely even thinking about the sport. The beautiful game that we all love to watch is being tainted by the very people who control it.
The UEFA director of competitions, Giorgio Marchetti, was quick to defend the high prices. He was quoted in The Guardian as saying “when you compare it to other events, we don’t think that the Champions League final is overpriced. We do not want to squeeze every single penny out of the market”.
That last sentence really riles me, and I’m sure it annoyed every football fan across the country and probably across the continent. By setting such obscene prices, squeezing ever single penny out of the “market” is exactly what UEFA are doing. Ticket prices are high enough in this country (paying over £50 to go and see the club your support and love is simply unacceptable) but this is a new level of obscenity. This is taking advantage of fans who, let’s be honest, will be so desperate to get to see this final live that they will, inevitably, pay £300 to get inside Wembley.
Michel Platini
That price, though, isn’t the end of it. UEFA justified the £26 booking fee (or £36 for those outside of Europe) by saying that there were “costs involved”. What are these “costs”? Printing? Laminating? A holding fee? Postage? Unless the tickets are gold-plated and have a holographic image of Michel Platini doing a little dance, I can’t see how UEFA can defend this price. How can anyone possibly justify such an obscene sum of money for what is, essentially, printing costs and putting a thin piece of material in an envelope?
The news of ticket prices did come on a particularly bad day for football and its leaders as FIFA attempted to make English football fans pay to watch the World Cup, while UEFA wanted the European Championships to become pay-per-view. Thankfully, the European Court ruled against them, but this is yet another example of the powerful rulers at the top of the footballing ladder taking advantage of the little people down at the bottom. Fans are exploited in every way possible and this will be shown when 11,000 Champions League final tickets go on sale in the coming weeks and, undoubtedly, 11,000 tickets will be sold. The section of football fans who are lucky enough to have that sort of money, and be able to spend it on such things as a football match, will, of course, snap up these tickets and will be singing “Que Sera, Sera” in no time, and I don’t begrudge them for that.
What I do have a problem with, though, is the fact that UEFA are actually defending this. Marchetti explained that, presumably because Michel Platini bemoaned the lack of children at last season’s final in Madrid, “some tickets from children [were put] at a discounted price”. Marchetti stated that there was a discount of “50% for the child”. While this may be technically true, the fact of the matter is that, for a child to go the match with an adult (at a “discount” price), it would still cost £338.
Of course, UEFA will defend this pricing by saying that they will put more money back into the game. I, personally, cannot see this happening. Members of UEFA will line their own pockets with the money that will be made from the selling of tickets, although I would suspect that the owners of Wembley will receive a proportion of the money eventually made, which will help with some of the debts that are yet to be fully paid off.
Quite simply, this justification isn’t good enough. Many football fans are becoming disillusioned with the sport and it is no surprise given the way that the governing bodies rule. UEFA should be setting an example to European clubs who already out-price many loyal fans. Marchetti suggesting that the ticket prices for the final are OK because these are the prices that are being charged nowadays doesn’t sit well with me and many other fans as those sums are overpriced in the first place.
Everyone knows that football is a business nowadays. Football isn’t a sport before being a market, a show before being a business.” The people at the top of the game, in setting these record-high prices for the final, are squeezing every single penny out of said market. The sad fact of the matter is that football fans can’t do anything (or, rather, won’t). The 2011 Champions League final will be a sell-out and UEFA will label it a success. The most annoying part of all of this is not the prices, not even the poor attempts at justifying the prices, but the fact that fans can’t do anything about it.

England would prefer to win the World Cup rather than host it

England’s hopes to host the 2018 World Cup took a turn for the worse recently as it was revealed that the media have “significantly damaged” their bid to host the coveted tournament. But do England really want to stage the World Cup in eight years time?

The World Cup in South Africa cost nearly $1.5 billion. While England won’t require the building of brand new stadiums and infrastructure, it is estimated that the cost of showcasing the 2018 competition would not be too different to that of the 2010 event. The World Cup may have brought South Africa great buildings and some sort of financial aid but the actual football that was seen at the tournament was, on the whole, pretty poor. England, especially, played below what is expected of such a hopeful nation.

You can see the rest of the article on Football Speak:

The FA bottled it over Redknapp

Manchester United’s second goal on Saturday continues to cause great debate amongst football fans, pundits and even managers alike.

Just minutes after the Premier League game, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was brought out by the various broadcasting companies to do interviews and answer questions, with Nani’s goal the obvious talking point. Redknapp called the goal a “farce” and said that referee Mark Clattenburg had “had a nightmare”. The FA recently came out and stated that Redknapp would not be charged, although he would be warned on his future conduct.
First of all, the Nani goal was quite clearly going to create controversy. Many people were at fault (Clattenburg for poor communication; the assistant referee for waving his flag at an inexplicable time; Gomes for not clearing the ball when he had the chance and therefore not taking the advantage that Clattenburg had given him; Nani for possible gamesmanship; and Rio Ferdinand, who should not have been anywhere near the referee and his assistant during their discussion). However, dragging a manager out of the dressing room and questioning them on an incident, minutes after it has occurred, is quite ridiculous. It’s been said before and undoubtedly will be said again, but that needs to change.
It won’t change, though, because the broadcasting companies control what goes on. If they want an interview with managers or players straight after the game, then the FA will create a rule which says this must happen. They will also force interviewees to say the correct things, i.e. not impeding on their precious improper conduct law. Many managers have gone against this law (notably David Moyes in November 2008, Steve Bruce in February of this year and Sir Alex Ferguson on many occasions throughout his twenty-four-year reign as Manchester United manager).
These four, highly esteemed managers were all punished for their actions. Moyes received a £5,000 fine after Alan Whiley refused Everton a penalty in late 2008. Bruce didn’t agree with Andre Marriner’s decision to send Michael Turner off earlier this year and the former United skipper was later fined £2,500. Most famously, Ferguson was fined £20,000, and given a touchline ban, after he questioned Whiley’s fitness after his side drew with Sunderland in 2009 while, in 2008, he was given a two-match touchline ban, as well as a £10,000 fine, for confronting referee Mike Dean after a game against Hull City.
Redknapp, though, managed to escape chastisement. The former-West Ham and Portsmouth manager threatened to stop talking to the media “if they [The FA] want to make an issue of what I [Redknapp] said”. The fact that the FA have not punished Redknapp may also have something to do with the fact that he is a possible candidate for the England job when Fabio Capello leaves his post in two years time.

The FA clearly like their big-money broadcasting deals that they have at the moment, but they don’t want managers to ‘bring the game into disrepute’. If managers are coming out that soon after a game, though, they cannot be expected to stay calm and collected and say something which is OK with the FA.
The fact that Redknapp hasn’t been charged is not the problem. When those involved in football give interviews they need to have opinions. Although Clattenburg didn’t make a particular mistake on Saturday, Redknapp was right to say that Clattenburg “has made a mess of it”. But if the FA has a rule and forces managers to oblige by it, then they have to stick to their guns with Redknapp. The problem isn’t that Redknapp should have been fined; the problem is that no one should be punished for having an opinion.

This article was originally found on Football Speak but is now unavailable due to a site update.