*UPDATE: FIFA says no extra refs for WC 2010, opening "disciplinary proceedings" against Henry*
*UPDATE 2: Video of Sepp Blatter chuckling at those sillyass Irish
These are tough times for Sepp Blatter.
No, I don't mean that they're making him fly commercial or drive rental Fords instead of riding around in Mercedes limos.
(Speaking of which, Lord Triesman is touting David Beckhams' personally ponying up a third of the £150,000 price tag for his private jet flight to South Africa yesterday as evidence of his strong commitment to Englands' bid. For myself, I'd like to hear Triesman explain why England paid the other £100,000.)
Blatter has called a "crisis meeting" of the FIFA Executive committee for today and tomorrow, ahead of the regularly scheduled get-together in conjunction with the World Cup draw, which will be held on Friday.
The two issues they will be dealing with are a) the continuing embarrassment over the Hand of Henry incident which stubbornly refuses to go away and b) the growing match fixing scandal in Europe.
With regard to Henry they are supposedly considering, even as we speak, some form of "sanctions" for the French star, and outlining sanctions for similar acts in the future. The former seems wildly unfair - in the US ex post facto laws fly in the face of our sense of justice - and the latter would seem to open an enormous can of worms requiring video review of every call.
But as we've come to understand, just because something is a terrible idea never prevents FIFA from doing it anyway.
As for Ireland, incredibly, Blatter has found a way to make them even angrier than they were previously.
In the wake of FIFAs' refusal to replay the France/Ireland match, Ireland held "a supposedly private" meeting with Blatter last week and asked that FIFA consider letting them into the WC as the 33rd team.
The FAI admits that they didn't think there was much chance of it happening, but they hoped that the FIFA ExCo would at least discuss it. Either way, they felt they had Blatters' agreement that what was said would be "confidential".
So yesterday, Blatter related Irelands' request at a press conference and - according to reports - openly "giggled" at the proposal.
ADDED 1:30 EST:
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZJ95PHI4W4"]YouTube- Sepp Blatter FIFA's clown on Irelands request to be 33rd team in S. Africa[/ame]
This caused FAI President Liam Brady to lash out in a manner that's seldom if ever been heard from any responsible world football official, calling Blatter
“an embarrassment to Fifa”. and "a loose cannon", and adding "I’m afraid Mr Blatter is a bit of a law unto himself”.
It wasn't enough that Ireland was feeling cheated; Blatter had to go ahead and stab them in the back by betraying their confidence.
Which only goes to prove that no matter how bad you may think a situation is, Sepp Blatter can find a way to make it worse.
Insulting the Irish aside, however, the Henry issue hasn't gone away, and FIFA is now under increasingly heavy pressure to do something about fixing the problem.
There will be serious discussion of THE USE OF VIDEO TECHNOLOGY (VT) like almost every other sport on Earth, but that would seem unlikely for a number of reasons.
Of course the biggest one is that soccer, as a continuous action sport that doesn't even allow timeouts, simply can't have everyone standing around for five minutes a few times a game. It changes the entire nature of the sport.
For their part, FIFA claims that their main objection is that if they do it at the top level they would have to do it for ALL levels and most leagues can't afford it, but that seems pretty weak.
The issue here isn't that games get decided on officiating errors every day of the week and that every one of them needs to be corrected; rather, it's that SOME games - like Ireland/France (or Costa Rica/Uruguay) - have so much at stake that getting it right is absolutely imperative.
There's very little if anything in all of sport that equals the importance, prestige and value of getting into a World Cup, and when that much is on the line clearly extraordinary steps should be taken to ensure, as much as possible, that the result is seen as fair.
If Terry Vaughn blows a midsummer Rhinos/Islanders match, some folks will be upset but it doesn't shake up the world. Knocking Ireland or Costa Rica out of the biggest sporting event on the planet, does.
Nonetheless, even if Blatter was to concede the point - and this is a man whose opinions change like the weather - there's probably not enough time to set up a VT protocol for SA 2010. Which leaves Michael Platinis' "two extra sets of eyes" proposal as seemingly the only practical choice, and I'd be shocked if FIFA didn't decide that, testing and evaluation be damned, they're sending in reinforcements for next summer.
The only other option is to do nothing, and much as Blatter and Co. would love to do just that, I doubt if they will want to take the heat that would bring down.
As for the match fixing scandal, it's potentially much more serious but there's just not much FIFA can do about it besides cooperate with the various police agencies, make serious clucking noises and pray to God the paper trail doesn't lead somehow to Zurich.
Since the focus over the next few days will be on the doings in South Africa, World Cup Organizing Committee President Danny Jordaan, apparently tired of the complaints about the rampant crime problem in South Africa, announced yesterday that all those daily murders, rapes and robberies AREN'T HIS "RESPONSIBILITY".
In fairness, while it's not entirely clear what he meant by this besides that he himself was not running the streets knifing people, it's true that teams traveling there for various events recently have not been the victims of violent crime.
As usual he continues to pretend that the incidents with the hookers stealing money from the Egyptian team and the Brazilian's hotel rooms being burgled were some species of natural event unconnected to anything that could be described as "crime", which is disingenuous at best.
Of more concern is the fact that at least some atheletes attending these events report that they did not FEEL very safe much of the time and couldn't wait to get the hell out.
Either way, you have to guess that at the WC the teams will be well protected by legions of armed people, although at least one country - Germany - has announced that they're bringing their own "hard men" to keep their guys safe, something that one wishes we would hear from USSF but I won't hold my breath.
It's the fans who will be in whatever jeopardy exists, and I can't believe there's anyone - including Mr. Jordaan - who doesn't believe that there will be at least a few ugly incidents. It's simply inevitable. One has to believe that their goal is not an unrealistic "zero crime" fantasy but rather some ambiguous "acceptable level" criteria.
In other FIFA news, Sepp Blatter has a message for Dan regarding David Beckham:
THIS GUY IS A GOOD GUY, LET ME TELL YOU" says Seppy.
Blatter has been saying for a year or more that England needs to use DBecks as the lead ambassador in their bid for a World Cup finals.
He reiterated this opinion yesterday, saying ""If they didn't (sic) use him they are not very intelligent. They have to use him for everything forever."
This of course follows Jack Warner's bizarre, rambling comments a few months back when he said that England needed to have the Queen come and hang around with them a lot.
All of which underlines the obvious fact that these guys really have no interest in evaluating the various bids on the basis of anything other than who throws the more glittering cocktail parties.
Like the rest of us, they want famous people sucking up to them. Unlike us, they are in a position to make it happen.
The whole thing is an embarassing farce, just like back in 2006 on the night before the vote which finally gave South Africa the finals; Jack Warner announced that he desperately needed Nelson Mandela to fly to Europe and meet with him because he needed some more convincing.
What was it, exactly, that Mandela was going to do for Jack? Discuss the number of hotel rooms in Johannesburg or the bus schedule for Pretoria? Jack knew everything he was ever going to know about the bid, and if there were some details he wasn't clear about there were lots better people to ask. He just wanted Mandela to dance for him.
Same deal with England; they want a lot of lavish receptions and they want David Beckham there fetching them canapes and bubbly. We're all supposed to believe, apparently, that Beckham - or the Queen, for that matter - spends these evenings sidling up to Chuck Blazer or Jack Warner and cooing "You know, Anfield has restroom facilities that can handle 5,000 people an hour, PLUS excellent access to mass transit."
So now Blatter has openly demanded that either England produce Beckham for their amusement and personal aggrandizement at every turn or else they're "not very intelligent" and thus, evidently, unworthy of hosting the tournament.
It's only surprising they didn't demand that he bring Posh along. Or maybe they figured that was understood.
(Beckham is in South Africa for Fridays' draw, where he'll reportedly stand alongside Charlize Theron. A dangerous job, but somebody's got to do it.)
Meanwhile, serious non-celebrity types, roundly disgusted by the level of boot licking FIFA demands, are jumping ship on the England committee. The latest is Sir Dave Richards, Chairman of the Premier League, who resigned yesterday saying soemthing about how he could help out more by, um, well, by not helping. Or something.
His resignation follows the exit of six other committee members after the "Jack Warner Wants A Bag" embarassment, when the CONCACAF President lambasted them for not handing out goody bags, after which they handed out some expensive designer handbags, which Warner took and then sent back for reasons which defy any kind of logic.
But now they have a new imperative: produce David Beckham to perform stupid human tricks on demand. And the best part is that all it will apparently cost them is £100,000 for transportation now and then.
What a bargain.