James Lawton: Blatter is football's Mr Big and now the gangbusters must bring his empire down
When Acton declared that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, he might havebeen anticipating the creation of Fifa
Tuesday 31 May 2011
What is truly nightmarish about Fifa is not so much the extent of the allegations of sleaze, and the arrogance of its perpetrators, mountainous though they are, but the impotence of those who have long cried that the governance of world football is an abomination.
This is true to such an extent that you have to suspect if Fifa was in charge of some decrepit banana republic, rather than the world's most beautiful and popular game, some of its most outrageous figures might be found hanging from the nearest lamp posts.
Not an outcome to be advocated by any reasonably law-abiding citizen, of course, but let's be honest; wouldn't it be intriguing to see if Fifa president Sepp Blatter and some of his foremost cronies could maintain expressions of unchallengeable smugness even under such fraught personal circumstances?
The chances are they probably could, because if the history of Blatter's reign, as that of his Brazilian predecessor Joao Havelange, is characterised by anything it is an insuperable belief in his ability to shape the organisation quite any way he chooses.
It is necessary only to stroll casually back through the 13 years of Blatter's presidency to find examples of not just his disregard of his critics and their claims that Fifa was riddled with corruption but his open contempt.
In Seoul nine years ago he put down various rebellions in the wake of the catastrophic collapse of Fifa's marketing organisation – amid huge debt and claims of outrageous profiteering within the organisation – and was voted into another term by "acclamation". His hubris was quite something to see. The African challenge of Issa Hayatou had faded away and the whistle-blowing of Fifa's then secretary-general, Michael Zen-Ruffinen, had also been shoved aside.
Zen-Ruffinen had done much to organise the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and for a little while it seemed he would be sacked on the eve of the tournament as part of Blatter's jubilantly packaged revenge. Instead he left "amicably" some time later, but not before Blatter had claimed triumphantly Zen-Ruffinen would be "thrown out of the door by Friday. The executive committee is going to take care of Mr Clean".
The language is chilling, isn't it, but then we have known for some time that when the first Baron Acton declared that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely he might have been anticipating the creation of Fifa. Here, on the broadest face of it, is indeed absolute power, power untrammeled by any of the normal restraints imposed by well ordered and passably just societies.
This was the bedrock of Blatter's authority when he appeared yesterday to face questions about the latest pantomime of political chicanery that led to the weekend withdrawal of his rival Mohamed bin Hamman from the presidential election. There can be no mourning for the fall of Bin Hamman, the man who has the outrage of Qatar's World Cup hosting triumph set against his name, of course, but nor can there be a scintilla of pleasure in the latest triumph of football's Mr Big.
It is nothing so much as the confirmation of the style that in 1998 first carried him into office on the coat-tails of Havelange, the man whose policy of nurturing the hopes, and no doubt in some cases the bank accounts, of Africa and Asia he pursued with so much zeal and acumen.
For Blatter there is maybe one unwanted accolade. It is that no-one has ever been more adept at squeezing out the very pips of world football; no-one has walked so surely into the super league of man-manipulation. Havelange worked for a voting edge to neutralise any growth of scepticism among the major football nations – and Havelange's strategy has been for so long his own inheritance.
One difficulty in recent weeks has been to see the Football Association as some beacon of reforming zeal. It scarcely chimes with the 1998 decision to switch its vote from the Swedish contender Lennart Johansson in favour of Blatter, a move widely believed to be closely associated with a promise of victory in the voting for the 2006 World Cup which went to Germany.
Nor does it sit any easier with the more recent claims that any exploration of Fifa corruption was bound to work against another FA bid – this one for 2018 – and was thus not public spirited but "unpatriotic".
The overwhelming conclusion has to be that some of the resignation about the futility of reforming Fifa, of bringing it into the orbit of decency, has to be challenged. Fifa may be a law unto itself but it is not one that cannot be undermined, perhaps one day fatally, by a properly motivated and supported campaign by any government which recognises that football is more than a mere pastime.
Of course it is something that can engage the passions of the world. We saw that at Wembley last Saturday night when a huge audience tuned in to see Barcelona's beautifully gifted team fulfil a most perfect expression of a game revered in every corner of the universe.
It is simply not good enough to shrug away the dichotomy between what Barcelona achieved and what Fifa do to the game and its image on a routine basis. There is a duty to undermine Fifa now with every means. We cannot send in the SAS or the Seals but we can wage another kind of war aimed at ridiculing and ultimately destroying a sickening empire.
Fifa, we are constantly told, is beyond reproach or effective censure. But when critics of the 1994 World Cup in America asked Henry Kissinger if it was possible to put grass into indoor stadiums, he said: "Well, we did get a man to the moon." Who could say that bringing down Sepp Blatter isn't also quite a noble cause?
Hamilton's silly remark could hardly be less accurate
At least Lewis Hamilton got something right in Monaco. It was his swift apology for his "joke" about the colour of his skin being at the root of the disciplinary action of the stewards rather than his own harebrained driving.
Not only was his remark unfunny, as he had the grace to admit so quickly, it was also surely offensive to all those millions of young people who, with infinitely greater legitimacy, might claim that racism, either institutionalised or implicit, still presents a barrier to their progress in life.
Hamilton surely cannot begin to make such a claim. He has, in a complete sense, been fast-tracked to the most enviable of lifestyles – and for a very good reason. He is, as he proved with his early world title, a racer of extraordinary ability. But not only did he get his chance at a remarkably young age, he also got to drive the fastest available car by some distance.
Now that his pronounced advantage has for some time been taken away by the increased competitiveness of teams like Red Bull and Ferrari he is surely obliged to get on with his job, as so many of the greatest drivers have been required to do at various points of their careers – and preferably with a minimum of whining when things don't turn out quite as he hoped.
It's a betrayal to say Barcelona are the greatest
Contrary to what you may have read – and unfortunately on the front page of this newspaper yesterday – it is not true that "Now I believe the hype about Barcelona."
The fact is that Barcelona played with a rare and biting beauty while dismantling Manchester United in the Champions League – and in the process undoubtedly proved that they deserve to be numbered among the great teams of club football.
However, the hype is that they are the best team ever to play the game. It is, not withstanding all of Barça's merits, a ridiculous claim and demands rejection – especially from someone privileged to have seen such rivals for the mythic title as Real Madrid, Ajax, Milan, Bayern Munich and Liverpool. Anything less is not only a pandering to the sensation of the moment – and the hype – but also a betrayal.
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