Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

The Last Word: Football should not mean England playing in a toxic World Cup overseen by a Fifa president touched by the madness of King Lear

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The Independent Online

OK then, do nothing.

Allow the screaming skull of a triumphant Sepp Blatter to remain the face of modern football. Accept the culture of cronyism and corruption he presides over. Acknowledge the malignant genius of the functionary who became an emperor.

Wait for him to die in office. Watch the power of perverted patronage grow. Wonder whether the trail of blood money will end in a US courtroom towards the end of this decade, or in the dance macabre of the opening ceremony for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

There is an alternative.

Ignore siren voices which insist withdrawal from Fifa is as futile a gesture as spoiling a ballot paper. Ignite a bonfire of vanities capable of consuming what the FBI characterises as a global network of crime syndicates. Install a new generation of leaders who possess moral courage, political acuity and missionary zeal.

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It was business as usual after Blatter's re-election (AFP)

Change the landscape. Combat inevitable slurs of commercial opportunism and creeping colonialism by creating a transparent, independently monitored organisation in which authority is earned rather than assumed. Cherish the concept of a tournament which enshrines the world’s best, so that it is regenerated and, if necessary, rebranded.

Above all, know your enemy.

Blatter is not the buffoon of popular legend. Even in his series of increasingly unhinged speeches during an election process that resembled a Eurovision Song Contest from Hell, he ensured his supplicants kept their eye on the main prize. “It is the World Cup that is the goose of the golden eggs,” he told them. “We need to keep that institution.”

He was speaking in a £220m building, to delegates accustomed to unbounded luxury and ritual subservience. The World Cup pays for everything, and there is a lack of due diligence on how, or if, the money is spent. He manipulates mediocrities, exploits envy and resentment, and will sustain the illusion of reform. Change from within is a chimera.

It was business as usual yesterday. Victory brought menace rather than magnanimity, the veiled threat that “I forgive everyone but I do not forget”. He could not resist sniping at familiar enemies, and a lapse into Orwellian doublespeak in which he implied the slew of arrests was proof of a lack of corruption.

He denied being responsible for an alleged $10m (£6.5m) bribe paid to Jack Warner, one of the grandees currently under investigation. His risible conspiracy theory, that the FBI are part  of an imperialist plot against him, played to convenient perceptions  in the developing world. He  knows Africa historically mistrusts Europe, and Asian TV markets are increasingly lucrative.

 

He is a consummate networker, and confirmed his intention to embark on a charm offensive with spooked sponsors. They remain obvious targets  for an alternative tournament featuring leading European nations and embellished by teams from North and South America.

It is time to play Blatter at his own game, on his own turf. Rebellious overtures should be made to China and India, populous nations in which football is at a critical stage of development; if this is not done soon they will be drawn into Fifa’s orbit for good. Football would be splintered but spring-cleaned.

Any attempt to disrupt the status quo will unleash an army of powdered-wigged Orcs, yet legal retribution from Blatter and his allies is a risk which must be taken. We are not dealing with a sacred relic here. The World Cup is a relatively recent sporting phenomenon, and has been operating as a  truly global event for only 65 years, since the introduction of British teams in 1950. 

That milestone is a reminder of the dangers of our island mentality. The nondescript nature of British sports politics is embodied by FA of Wales president Trefor Lloyd Hughes, who is likely to take the UK’s traditional seat on Fifa’s executive committee, vacated by David Gill in a matter of hours because of his unwillingness to serve under Blatter.

Lloyd Hughes was outraged at being comprehensively beaten in a ballot for the place by the former Manchester United chief executive, because he believed he had been promised Buggins’ turn. He represents the pettiness which led to the smaller home nations denying young men and women the chance to compete for Great Britain in the next Olympic football tournament.

Gill, subjected to retaliatory criticism by Blatter, has been immeasurably more impressive than Greg Dyke, who has once again come across as a shallow sloganeer. The FA chairman dismally missed the point when he argued England’s unilateral withdrawal from the World Cup would be “ridiculous”. Act on a point of principle, regardless, or accept the consequences of your temerity.

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Blatter could not resist sniping at familiar enemies after his victory (AFP)

Gill is that rarity, a highly principled pragmatist. He has natural authority and would be a key figure in any breakaway, yet new leaders must be  developed quickly and stealthily. Michel Platini is a busted flush, compromised by his support for Qatar  and powerless even to influence the French federation, which voted for his enemy Blatter. 

Zbigniew Boniek, his former Juventus team-mate, has the potential to be a rallying point for independently minded administrators. He used his position as chairman of the Polish federation to call for Russia to be stripped of the 2018 World Cup because of the conflict with Ukraine.

It is easier to acquiesce, and succumb to scare stories about Fifa refusing to sanction players at club or international level. They may administer the laws of the game, outlined over 144 pages, but the US Department of Justice has exposed their unworthiness to govern in a 164-page indictment which outlines institutionalised criminality. This scandal will spread until it is all-consuming.

Ultimately it comes down to personal choice. What does football mean to you? To me it is the joy of a toddler taking uncoordinated hacks at a plastic ball. It is the misery of defeat, communal devotion and tangible emotion. It is not England playing at a toxic World Cup overseen by a Fifa president touched by the madness of King Lear.

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