Robin Scott-Elliot: A lot of Blatter blather but not much change
"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like in volleyball. They could ... have tighter shorts"
Monday 12 March 2012
Last week was a busy one for Sepp Blatter. It began in what the president of Fifa kindly calls the "motherland of football", although his current vice-president, Julio Grondona, someone who once suggested that "Jews don't like hard work", knows it better as a land of "pirates" and "liars".
In Blatter's eyes Grondona is a "monumental man" and a "friend for ever". But then you can't choose your friends, can you? The motherland was England and Blatter, or Mr President as he likes to be addressed, dropped into Farnborough airport in a private jet before being swept away to attend a meeting of Ifab, the body that oversees the rules of the game, in Surrey.
There he had a two-hour discussion with David Bernstein, chairman of the Football Association and the man who stood up to Blatter's unopposed re-election last year. Relations between Blatter, Fifa and the FA are improving, although they and the rest of the world await convincing that change is coming.
Blatter finished up his Peroni in the Pennyhill Park Hotel bar and got back on the road. Next stop Bangladesh. "Football is hope, football is life," tweeted Mr President from Dhaka. Blatter is an enthusiastic twitterer and his fingers were busy as he moved on to Bhutan. "Met His Excellency Prime Minister Jigme Yoezer Thinley. A Philosopher, a Bhutanese. 'What is the meaning of life?' he asked me. His answer: 'Happiness. Yes, and football is a way to it'."
It's a shame the man who has sat at the top of Fifa since 1998, and has been involved in its upper echelons since 1981, did not share his answer to the Prime Minister's question. Perhaps he did not have time as he was soon tweeting again.
"International Women's Day today – helps us recall the importance of women in society and in football," declared Blatter. Blatter has long backed women's place in football. In 2004 he said: "Let the women play in more feminine clothes like in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so."
It wasn't women in tight shorts that caught his eye on his next stop in Nepal, rather the "continuous line of children waving flags on the way from airport in Kathmandu through city to the hotel".
The average annual income in Nepal is less than $200. In 2010 the average income of an employee of Fifa was $168,682.17. Spending on salaries at Fifa rose by 31.6 per cent from 2009 to 2010, according to a report published last week. Of course, it's an unreal comparison but Fifa, at its highest level, operates in an unreal world. Blatter's Fifa inhabits a parallel universe.
In February, Blatter lectured CAF, the African federation, on the "importance of good governance". This from a man who has taken no responsibility for the absence of good governance at the top of an organisation he has governed for nearly 14 years. This is no suggestion that Blatter is corrupt, but he has been in charge throughout a period when members of Fifa have faced a wave of allegations. Fifa is now held up as a shining example of bad governance. After triumphing over no one to be re-elected for four more years at June's congress, Blatter promised reform, as well as Henry Kissinger and Placido Domingo. Later this month the Executive Committee (Ex-co) meets in Zurich, where it will be updated on those plans for reform. If approved they will then be voted on by the next congress in Budapest in June, and then, more than a year on from his promises in Zurich, something might happen.
Last October Blatter promised to release documents relating to the collapse of ISL, a marketing firm linked to Fifa. They are said to reveal the names of senior Fifa officials, including Ricardo Teixeira, another "friend", who took kickbacks. They have yet to be released. Fifa says it is because of Swiss court proceedings. Here's another thing that happened last week – Teixeira, an Ex-co member, took medical leave of absence from his post at the head of the Brazilian FA.
Blatter is going nowhere. Last year he was asked whether he would resign in the wake of his suggestion that on-field racism is best settled with a handshake. Blatter replied: "To leave would be totally unfair and not compatible with my fighting spirit, my character, my energy."
Whatever reforms are instigated in June, Blatter will stay. On his watch, Fifa has become discredited. It has made lots of money, though. Outside its HQ in Zurich is a sculpted wooden trough into which water is continuously pumped. The trough is never empty. On its side is a plaque. It has Blatter's name on it. They don't do irony at Fifa.
Blatter is back in Zurich, but here's one more thought he shared on his journey: "Bhutan is a world unto itself." As long as Blatter remains as president of Fifa, with his "friends" around him, then Fifa will remain in a world of its own.
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