Blatter Wanted to Stand With the Giants

We all know that, on the Hypocrisy Scale, most international "conferences" that claim to be about "peace" rate a solid ten. Add a point when the UN is involved, ensuring that the thing is chaired by representatives of bloodthirsty kleptocracies with a "human rights" record on a par with Joseph Stalin's.

So what do you get when the "International Conference on Racism and Xenophobia" is organized and promoted by Sepp Blatter? An embarassing disaster that only serves to underscore how totally absurd the 2010 World Cup is starting to look,

That's quite an achievement, even for our boy Sepp.

For years now, Blatter and his henchmen have gone to great lengths to associate themselves with South Africa's Human Rights immortals, particularly Nelson Mandela. (You get the feeling that if someone would agree to exume Steven Biko, FIFA's elite would line up 10 deep for the photo op.)

On the eve of the vote that gave South Africa the 2010 World Cup, for example, Jack Warner, sitting in his hotel suite in Zurich, decided that he needed more "convincing" (as if Sepp's orders weren't clear at that point). So he called Pretoria and said that he needed to see Nelson Mandela, a sick old man who was, at the moment, in hospital.

The doctors said it was out of the question, but Warner insisted that he just couldn't vote for SA unless Mandela appeared in person in his hotel room. So the great old lion got on a plane, at the risk of his life, so that Jack could have one more photo taken with someone whose shoes he isn't worthy of shining.

(Mandela got his revenge when, just last year, with Warner in the middle of a tight election contest for PM of Trinidad & Tobago, Jack hopped on a (FIFA financed) plane and headed for SA to get another photo taken with Madiba at his home. Warner showed up at the gate and was turned away.)

Late last year, Blatter got the grand idea that a "2010 World Cup Conference for Peace" would be a grand way to kick off the campaign to convince everyone that they need to buy tickets for the finals in South Africa.

So he and Irvin Khoza, Chairman of the SA Organizing Committee - and a devoted Blatter stooge - enlisted the participation of the three South African Nobel Peace Prize winners: Bishop Desmond Tutu, former President F.W. de Klerk and, of course, Nelson Mandela. With full FIFA financial backing, they were asked to head up the thing, making all the arrangements and issuing all the invitations.

Sepp - and his pals Jack and Chuck and the rest - had warm, splendid visions of spending this weekend basking in the reflected glow of human decency which men like these radiate. It was going to be a glorious occasion, and the photos would have adorned thier office walls- and FIFA's website - for years to come.

Unfortunately, Blatter never figured on the one thing he couldn't control: men of this caliber tend not to take orders from tin pot clowns like him.

So the organizers sent out invitations far and wide. All of the greats were coming: even Morgan Freeman.

Including the Dalai Lama, who said he'd be delighted.

The Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu

So Sepp hopped a plane for South Africa, arriving early to milk as much PR as he could out of the deal. But when he landed, he got a shock that must have felt like someone getting a look at FIFA's books: South Africa had refused to grant His Holiness a visa, claiming that his presence would "take away the focus of the event from the World Cup".

(Of course, Blatter couldn't care less about Tibet, a place where TV rights aren't worth much anyway. When they told Sepp that the Lama couldn't get into the country, he probably asked if they could find an alpaca instead.)

It seems that they do a lot of business with China, and the Chinese were pretty annoyed that the Lama was invited to the big shindig. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, asked for a comment, said "more and more countries" were embracing Beijing's contention that Tibetan Buddhism's top cleric was "using his religious title as cover for pursuing independence for his Himalayan homeland."

He added that Beijing "appreciated efforts by all nations that support China's sovereignty and territorial integrity". In private, it's believed that the Chinese were more direct.

As a result, Tutu, de Klerk and Mandela all announced that they were no longer coming either. They were the ones who had invited the guy, who is, incidentally, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize holder, and their continued involvement was not consistent with their personal honor.

After Sepp ran to a dictionary to look up the term "personal honor" his peons got to work. Not on the SA government, of course, but on the three newly minted Refuseniks. They begged. They pleaded. They would have been happy to threaten but Sepp has no idea how to browbeat someone who doesn't care about the money.

de Klerk and Mandela

They stood firm. They said they'd be happy to attend at a later date when the government sees fit to issue the Dalai Lama a visa. The government, through presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe told reporters: "No, we won't."

So with the three South Afican organizers refusing to go forward, most of the other participants followed suit and, late Friday afternoon, the government gave up and "postponed" the event.

(This also manages to demonstrate an embarrassing level of hypocrisy on the part of South Africa, who demanded - on moral grounds - that the rest of the world join their fight against apartheid, to the point of suffering economic harm, but when it's their money they suddenly developed a short memory.)

So Sepp got back on the Gulfstream V FIFA has on 24 hour standby for him and headed back to Switzerland, undoubtedly perplexed at the idea that there are men in this world who aren't moved by cold cash. Men who have principles that they will not ignore for the sake of a good photo opportunity. Men who operate on a moral plane that he cannot possibly comprehend.

We could speculate, of course, that perhaps Blatter learned something this weekend.

But we all know that's not too likely.