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Column: Blame Blatter? Blame soccer, too
Easy. Too easy.
It’s the sort of thing many people would agree with. But simply saying something is unpleasant doesn’t make it go away.
That takes action. And, in that regard, soccer has failed. Miserably.
Those who run the global game, the soccer federation officials around the world who, ultimately, are Blatter’s electorate, have had umpteen reasons to ditch him or call for his head before this latest episode. But they’ve stuck by him.
So they shoulder responsibility for giving a platform to his views, too. Remember: FIFA member countries awarded Blatter a fourth four-year term just five months ago despite bribery allegations, ugly internal politicking and match-fixing and corruption cases in the sport that have shredded the credibility of soccer’s governing body and the men who lead it.
Not only did the fawning FIFA congress allow Blatter to stand unopposed, it gave him 91 percent of the vote. The regime in North Korea couldn’t have done much better. There are no courageous rebels leading an Arab Spring uprising in soccer and none on the horizon, either.
One reason is money.
Under Blatter, FIFA has raked in mounds of the stuff. It has built financial reserves of more than $1 billion. It has the cash-cow World Cup. It sits atop a giant of a sport that is still growing in popularity, especially in promising markets in Asia and the Middle East.
One of Blatter’s tricks during his nearly 14 years as FIFA president has been to ensure that gravy is spread around. Tens of millions of dollars in soccer development money doled out here, special $550,000 bonuses for all FIFA member associations in 2010 there. Seats on FIFA committees for the favored.
The former amateur soccer player is also a proven master of keeping friends and enemies close. It is a testimony to Blatter’s power, to his people and management skills, and to inertia and acceptance within soccer that even at the end of this year of atrocious headlines for FIFA, there appears to be so little appetite at the top of the sport to question Blatter’s leadership or methods.
Clearly, judging from his subsequent efforts to extract both feet from his mouth, Blatter realized that he wasn’t clever to say this week in television interviews that racism isn’t an issue on soccer fields. Even worse, he suggested that players who are victims of racist slurs should simply shake hands with and forgive their abusers at the end of a match.
That Blatter could blithely voice such absurdities when police and soccer officials in England are investigating two cases of on-field alleged racist abuse between players in the Premier League made the FIFA president look willfully insensitive and hopelessly out of touch.
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