No prizes for guessing the identity of this speaker, veering between vanity, banality and inanity: “I believe in the Lord. He tells me I can go to the Vatican. If he gives me health, good luck, yes, I will bring back Fifa.”
It can only be one man: Fifa president Sepp Blatter. Even in this season of goodwill to all men, the sentiments are so crass, distasteful and delusional that it is tempting to blot him from the consciousness as an aberration.
Yet since his position as the most powerful individual in the world’s most popular game gives him cultural, financial, political and social significance, he cannot be ignored. His reason for reneging on promises to retire – “football needs leadership” – crystallises an all-consuming crisis.
I’ve not seen a better definition of leadership than this, by General Douglas MacArthur: “A true leader does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
Key players in the Qatar World Cup bid controversy
Key players in the Qatar World Cup bid controversy
1/5 Mohammed bin Hammam
The Qatari was the Asian Football Confederation president at the time of the 2010 vote. The Sunday Times alleged that documents showed he made payments to officials as part of a campaign to win support for the 2022 World Cup bid. He insisted he had no “official or unofficial” role with the bid. Fifa imposed a second life ban on him in December 2012, after his decision to quit all his football roles. This came after the Fifa ethics committee investigation found him guilty of “repeated violations” of the ethics code on conflicts of interest, while he was AFC president and while a member of the Fifa Exco between 2008-2011.
2/5 Jack Warner
The Trinidad & Tobago politician was forced to resign as a Fifa vice-president in 2011, after he and Bin Hammam were alleged to have paid bribes of £600,000 to Caribbean associations. He is also alleged to have helped Bin Hammam bribe Caribbean officials in return for support in his aim to oust Sepp Blatter.
3/5 Sepp Blatter
The long-standing Fifa president oversaw the bidding process to award Qatar the World Cup. Has since admitted awarding Qatar the cup was “a mistake”. He set up an executive committee task force to look into the World Cup in Qatar being moved to the winter because of the extreme summer temperature.
4/5 Lord Triesman
Former FA chairman. Alleged that, in exchange for voting for England to host the World Cup, Warner asked for money to build an education centre in Trinidad and to buy World Cup television rights for Haiti, and that Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz asked for an honorary knighthood in exchange for their votes.
5/5 Michael Garcia
Former New York district attorney Michael Garcia was named Fifa’s chief independent ethics investigator. He spent a year investigating the organisation, and delivered a 350-page report on the 2018 and 2022 bidding processes in September. Called for greater transparency and culture change in Fifa.
Sport across the spectrum lacks leaders of appropriate stature, motivation and principle because power is wielded within bloated, bureaucratic bodies which, by their very nature, are unresponsive to the threat posed by public cynicism and indifference.
Do you instinctively trust those who emerge from luxury hotels, flanked by security guards and pensive apparatchiks? Do you care about such unearned privilege, and the litany of alleged corruption with which they are associated? If not, we are all lost.
Blatter’s leadership is malignant and damningly one-dimensional, since it is dictated by a determination to dominate a small, self-serving elite whose statute book, which enshrines their rights as quasi-statesmen, suggests they consider themselves above the law.
There exist kindred spirits in athletics, cycling, rugby in both codes and swimming who have allowed their sports to be dragged back into the abyss because they lack the moral courage to confront drug abuse without fear or favour.
Cricket, a game once romantically defined by courtesy, modesty and selflessness, is now compromised by vindictiveness, duplicity and greed through having been annexed internationally on behalf of India, Australia and England.
Ethical leadership does exist, although it seems to require human tragedy to coax it out into the open. Two examples this month offer hope that institutional failures mask the influence of the individual.
The most obvious is that of Michael Clarke, before injury forced him to relinquish the captaincy of Australia’s cricket team. He became the voice of a nation, an outlet for its compassion and conscience, by leading the mourning for Phillip Hughes. In so doing he redefined the limits of heroism through the purity of his empathy and the visibility of his grief.
Kenny Dalglish was a similar conduit in the immediate aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster when, as Liverpool manager, he attended countless funerals and counselled the bereaved. His resolution will never be forgotten by the community he represented faithfully and sensitively.
His appearance at the reconstituted inquest into the disaster on Friday rekindled potent memories. Reporting restrictions curtail discussion, but his defence of Liverpool fans in fractious exchanges with the QC representing Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield of South Yorkshire Police conformed to an honourable pattern.
True leaders respond to causes that are bigger than themselves. Blatter recognises only himself, through the prism of his perception of omnipotence. Such prominence makes him sport’s Man of the Year 2014. There is no better reason to wish away time so that the chimes of Big Ben signal 2015.
KP will not bounce back
Kevin Pietersen’s response to the sacking of Alastair Cook, a mixture of narcissism and opportunism, summarised why he should never play cricket for England again.
The broad hint that he was ready to profit from the promotion of his friend Eoin Morgan was as predictable as the infantile glee of his cheerleaders. More rational observers will recognise a familiar sense of entitlement and ill-concealed insecurity.
Pietersen’s England career cannot be revived because of the toxicity of his personality, while Cook can look forward to reaffirming his personal and professional qualities in Test cricket during next summer’s Ashes.
Cook’s temporary discomfort is a result of his inordinate, self-defeating loyalty to those who ultimately betrayed him, like the dismal Paul Downton. But he is no-one’s fool.
He understood the improbability of playing himself into form in the abbreviated one-day game. In the long term he will benefit from a respite from the unceasing carousel of international cricket; in the short term he will work at technical faults with due diligence.
Cook’s return to the Test arena as England captain will emphasise Pietersen’s marginalisation. The self-styled celebrity batsman will still seek attention, like a toddler throwing toys at the television, but ignore him and he will eventually go away.
Hereford lives on in spirit
The mercy killing of Hereford United is a cause for celebration, since it gives their supporters the opportunity to remind more fortunate fans of their birthright, a club whose identity is forged in the community rather than in the archives of Companies House.
A story of familiar intrigue and incompetence will have a happy ending because the phoenix club will not lack for role models or goodwill. It is now incumbent on the FA to address scandalously overlooked responsibilities and draft a credible Fit and Proper Test for prospective owners.
Hereford fans showed them the way with a formidable resistance campaign on social media. They were ignored, ridiculed and attacked, but prevailed.
Tennis can thrive on cuts
Elitist tennis clubs are bleating about a lack of financial support for previously pampered mediocrities at county level. The Lawn Tennis Association may have been a standing joke but the impact of their austerity programme suggests British tennis may yet defy tradition and thrive despite itself.Reuse content