Things fell apart. The centre held. With Fifa’s top executives still locked up in detention centres all over town, world football’s governing body voted resoundingly for four more years of the same: Sepp Blatter.
“I’m not perfect,” he said, as the room erupted in applause. “Nobody’s perfect.
“I like you. I like my job. I like to be with you. I take the responsibility to bring back Fifa. "
It had been a long few days for Fifa's embattled President, though he's used to them, and his nautical metaphor failed him. "We will bring it back off-shore, back to the beach, football can be played, beach soccer. I am a faithful man. God, Allah or whatever it is spirit in the world that we believe, they will help us to bring back Fifa. I will do it with you.”
It took two rounds of votes, in the end, but it was a mere formality. 133 votes to Mr Blatter, 73 to Prince Ali bin Al Hussein took it, was three short of the two thirds majority required for a first round win.
But it didn’t matter. Fifa doesn’t do opinion polls, but it does do rumour, and when Asia’s sporting powerbroker-in-chief, the Kuwaiti Sheikh al-Sabah was photographed having a late night chat with his European counterpart, Michel Platini, the possibility of a last minute seismic shift of the tectonic plates became just that - a possibility.
It wasn’t to be. It was never to be.
“The eyes of the world are upon us, as they always are, his opponent Prince Al bin al Hussein had said. “But this time everything is at stake. There is nothing that can wash away the stain that marks us all. But even the darkest nights are broken by a new dawn.” It didn’t break. Not enough people, in the end, one, fancied a wash.
When you take the unimaginable wealth of football, generated in the most part by European clubs and American companies, and spread it out into every imaginable corner of the planet, don’t expect those on the margins to start spreading back the other way. A handful of blazers behind bars was never going to be enough to persuade them.
In England, the FA did its hand-wringing, issued its threat of a World Cup boycott that would never be tolerated by the fans, and the Prime Minister issued his platitudes. “How can it go on like this?” Perfectly easily, we now know for sure. It has always done so. When ever has another great dose of the same been the inducer of change? What cancer reacts to the sudden severity of its own symptoms by curing itself?
“I am being held accountable for the current storm. Well okay. So be it. I will shoulder that responsibility. I will take it,” Mr Blatter told the delegates in the minutes before the vote, at the end of two long days and seventeen long years of absolving himself of all responsibility for every last crisis that his beset his sham of an organisation.
Welcome to the Seppocracy. It is noble in its way, this organisation that, for one day a year when it meets for its Congress, has the outward appearance of a grand democracy. The cavernous chamber, the flag of every nation hanging from the ceiling. From Germany to Guam, one member, one vote. Each nation big and small marching one by one into the polling booths, its gravitas only enlarged by the Free Palestine and the Qatar anti-slavery protests going on outside. All nations are equal, in this inspiring vision of a retro-colonial world, where spits of sand in the Pacific and tiny African kingdoms finally hold sway over the great European powers, who rage with impotent anger and plot revolution that will not succeed.
But the crucial innovation of the Seppocracy is its parliament has no constituents. That link of accountability between ruler and subject has been purposely severed. The name of Fifa and its President is a joke on every last football terrace in the world, but it can make no difference. The fan, after all, is only where the money comes from, but who has been cut out of the process. Fifa, with its lunches and watches and private planes and five star hotels, exists as the tax on their passion, and it comes without representation.
Even without the intervention of the FBI or the Swiss Attorney General or the constant scandals, even without a single allegation ever made against Fifa, this absurd reincarnation of the United Nations for the sake of a game would be a money laundering scheme.
So on we go. To the “change that starts tomorrow” as Mr Blatter has promised, a change that will appear exactly the same as it has for the last seventeen years, and will in the coming weeks and months be re-engulfed by the next stages of the twin criminal investigations against it.
Then to Russia, and eventually to Qatar.
Abraham Lincoln, being no Sepp Blatter, only ever won the right to give two inaugural addresses, not five. Perhaps he should have been better at dodging bullets. There are a few words of his second address, delivered when his country’s civil war over the question of slavery was reaching its grim zenith, that are embossed on the wall of his memorial in Washington, just down the road from where the FBI are still going through the documents thrown up by twenty years of Fifa lies. “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” On that question, Fifa’s family has given its judgement. In the long meantime, seven years of it, we will just have to get on with counting the bodies.
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