So, he’s gone.
Amidst all of the celebrations after the announcement that Blatter will finally give up his FIFA presidency, there’s still the question of what comes next. There’s the small manner of another election to come, early estimates of timeframes suggest that it’ll be months away, and you can’t help but think that that election will be stage-managed by Blatter.
For all of the sordid stories, allegations and revelations of the past few days, and there’s probably going to be more to come so with breaking news as I write that Blatter's the subject of an FBI investigation; by far most disturbing thing I’ve seen is one that’s gone under the radar somewhat with all the other events that have happened this week.
That is the attempt by UEFA and its president, Michel Platini to re-write history and position themselves as the good guys; the great reformers who can be the saviours of football. In Platini, a man who is part of the problem is all of a sudden trying to position himself as the solution. As I’m writing this, rumours are rife Platini is going to run for election.
Almost as disturbing is that fact that people hated Blatter and FIFA so much that, at least in Europe, they are buying Platini’s stance.
There’s been a lot of tough talk from Platini and some UEFA members over the past few days. Platini told his former best buddy Blatter that enough was enough before last Friday’s election. There were rumblings that UEFA were planning to boycott the FIFA congress entirely. There was the UEFA recommendation that its members vote for Prince Ali. Various figures in UEFA have threatened to quit FIFA posts and there have been noises from some UEFA members about boycotting the World Cup or even withdrawing from FIFA altogether.
All of this was largely empty rhetoric; I don’t think there was never a realistic chance that UEFA withdraws from FIFA. For a start, such a move wouldn’t have the support required in UEFA, as 18 UEFA nations, including France and Spain, ignored plans to vote for Prince Ali and voted for Blatter.
Plus, let’s say UEFA did go it alone. Would anyone else go with them? For all of the many faults Blatter’s system of patronage produced, there are a lot of countries and confederations that have far greater influence globally now than they ever did. Would they really choose to revert to a system that would smack of colonialism?
Then there would be a question of what happens to UEFA clubs who use non-UEFA players. There’s a real possibility that FIFA could prevent players from FIFA countries playing in non-FIFA competitions, so there’s no way that, for example, Barcelona would be happy with not being able to play Lionel Messi. So a move to break from FIFA could negatively affect the
Platini and UEFA made threats that UEFA would boycott the FIFA congress. This was never going to happen. Firstly, if they had, the chances are Israel, who don’t forget are a UEFA member, would’ve been suspended by FIFA. Secondly, a UEFA boycott would’ve suited Blatter down to the ground anyway as a lot of his opposition hailed from Europe, so he’d have been delighted if they hadn’t bothered to vote.
As it stands, UEFA are in a prime position to bring about change within FIFA. UEFA are over-represented on the FIFA ExCo, with 3 vice-presidents (when you include the one from the UK nations), more than anyone else, and five members, also more than any other confederation gets. So, why would UEFA give up a position of privilege?
Even had Blatter decided to ride out his term of office, I’d have been amazed if UEFA followed through with the threat to boycott the next World Cup. Not only is the 2018 World Cup in a UEFA country, but politics would have come into play. The situation between Russia and the EU is already incendiary enough without pouring gasoline all over it, which is what a boycott would’ve done. Also, one of UEFA’s biggest corporate sponsors is Gazprom, the Russian energy company.
Also, remember that if UEFA really are the great reformers coming to clean FIFA up, why did nobody from UEFA end up on the presidential ballot? Why did UEFA effectively torpedo Jerome Champagne’s campaign? Why did the UEFA contenders withdraw and end up with UEFA hiding behind a Jordanian Prince who wasn’t even backed by his own Confederation? Prince Ali may not have succeeded in beating Blatter, but at least he had the guts to give it a go. There was always the sense that Platini wanted Prince Ali so he could prepare the groundwork for his own presidential bid in the future.
If UEFA were serious about taking FIFA by the scruff of the neck and making changes, they could have put forward a proper challenge. Blatter criticised UEFA for not taking enough, or really any, responsibility for helping solve FIFA’s problems. As much as it pains me to say this, he’s right.
What UEFA ended up doing was the cowardly move of encouraging someone else to do something they weren’t prepared to do, all so there couldn’t be any backlash from Uncle Sepp down the line. Hardly leadership material is it?
Then there’s the question of how squeaky clean Platini and UEFA are themselves. What’s being swept under the carpet in all of the anti-Blatter rhetoric is that Platini voted for Qatar, so there’s very little chance he’d be in favour of moving that World Cup.
In an article for The Blizzard, French Journalist Philippe Auclair claims he was told by a source that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy leaned on Platini to vote for Qatar, as the French economy was in the ‘merde’ and a vote for Qatar may have meant Qatar doing a lot more business with the French government.
In what I’m sure is a total coincidence, shortly after Platini’s vote for Qatar, BeIN Sports, a subsidiary of Al-Jazeera, bought some of the rights to broadcast the French league; Qatar Sport Investments bought a controlling interest in Paris Saint Germain and then appointed Platini’s son, Laurent, as a lawyer.
Platini has also tried to play the same game of patronage with UEFA that Blatter has with FIFA. At Platini’s insistence, the number of teams playing at European Championships will expand from 16 to 24 for the 2016 edition and beyond, meaning that nearly half of UEFA will qualify for the finals. Platini’s also played to the smaller UEFA countries, and has created ways of getting them into major tournaments.
For all the many faults of FIFA, at least it shares the wealth. UEFA, on the other hand is a plutocracy. Platini brought in rules that were supposed to curb excessive spending by clubs, but have now had to relax them as all they seem to have accomplished is keeping the rich clubs rich and stopping anyone else from joining them.
Here in England, FA chairman Greg Dyke and the media have been vocal about boycotting Russia 2018 and UEFA leaving FIFA. Some may point out England have successfully boycotted the later stages of World Cups for years, but all the talk of boycotting Russia is little more than sour grapes.
The FA (before Greg Dyke was appointed) were prepared to play along with Jack Warner’s reindeer games, including sponsoring a gala dinner in Trinidad; although they did refuse Nicolas Leoz’s request to have the FA Cup named after him and possibly receive a knighthood.
Many of the British newspapers criticising FIFA in the past few days are the same ones who called the BBC unpatriotic for screening a documentary about FIFA corruption just before the vote for the World Cup, a move that the media believed would cost England, rather than England’s general unpopularity in the football world.
It seems likely that Platini will run. Prince Ali may try again, as might Jerome Champagne. However, those candidates may represent change, whereas the Blatter vote suggested that many countries want things to stay as they are. If that’s the case then one of Issa Hayatou (who’s been caught up in bribery scandals in the past) or Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait may get the Blatter loyalist vote.