Sepp Steps in It
Posted on November 17, 2011 4:46 pm
Perhaps the most reliable natural phenomenon known to man is the absolute certainty that, on a regular basis, Sepp Blatter will say really stupid stuff.
Which is why, despite having substantially beefed up the FIFA PR and Media relations operation last month by bringing in all sorts of expensive hired guns, the only thing that would help in this regard would be to sew the man’s lips shut.
So yesterday, when Seppy told a television interviewer:
“On the field of play, I deny that there is racism. If you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.”
…anyone who was particularly surprised simply hasn’t been paying attention.
Many times, of course, part of the problem with his long (and obviously growing) list of ill-advised (read: stupid) public comments is the fact that there is often a kernel of truth in what he’s saying.
So when, for example, he said that comely young women wearing short, tight pants would beef up interest in women’s soccer, it was simultaneously undeniable and stupid.
Cute fannies on parade would certainly attract some attention although I’m not sure it would create a worldwide sensation; last I knew the Lingerie Football League was barely hanging on despite featuring suspiciously regular on-field wardrobe malfunctions.
Still, the point is probably valid to some extent. But the President of an international sport governing body is supposed to have better sense than to say so.
Same goes with the Qatar gay sex remark. He’s certainly correct that refraining from open homosexual relations while visiting much of the Middle East is a wise policy. The problem there wasn’t that he was wrong, but rather that it raised the question of how in hell the World Cup ended up being awarded to a country that imprisons people for who they choose to sleep with.
In this case as well, it’s obvious what he was getting at; everyone knows that in the heat of the contest stuff gets said and the whole point is to get inside your opponent’s head however you can. Even if you don’t believe a word of it. Even if it doesn’t even make sense.
Did Materazzi really think Zidane – or his mother, I was never clear on that – was a terrorist?
However, for several reasons, this isn’t simply a badly made point or something that you should only say to a close friend behind closed doors at 3AM as you pour the last drops of scotch from the bottle.
This one is much more appalling.
First of all, it assumes that spending 90 minutes hurling racial epithets at an opponent is an acceptable way to play the game. He seems to be equating it with “your mother wears army boots” or “caught your sister at the pussycat club last night – hell of dancer”.
And if he really and truly doesn’t get that, then he needs to be replaced immediately. Right now. Today.
Secondly, for a long time now he has insisted that before really big matches the players – who really need to be focusing on other things – have to assemble on the pitch behind a huge “Say No to Racism” banner while the captains read some dreadfully leaden prose on the topic of – well, of not saying racist stuff to people.
So now he tells us that it’s not really any big deal? Nothing to worry about? Just boys being boys?
Finally, in case he missed it, FIFA is under increasing scrutiny for their awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia, a country where football racism – on the stands, on the pitch and in the media – has reached levels which are starting to make everyone very nervous.
(If Qatar feels like it, they can simply tell their police to look the other way if they see openly homosexual behavior; what’s Russia going to do about 50,000 people in a stadium chanting ugly bigotry? Turn up the music?)
Understandably, there is a good deal of outrage today from all over the world over this latest comment and, predictably, Britain’s Sports Minister is calling for Blatter’s resignation.
Rio Ferdinand spoke for a lot of people when he said:
“Sepp Blatter your comments on racism are so condescending its almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok? I feel stupid for thinking that soccer was taking a leading role against racism … it seems it was just on mute for a while.”
All those committees and all those PR guys and all the backtracking and “here’s what I really meant” corrections – Blatter is saying today that he was “misunderstood” – aren’t going to be able to put this particular toothpaste back into the tube.
We’ll see how this plays out over the next few days; if we know anything for sure it’s that with FIFA almost anything is possible.
(For what it’s worth, William Hill, the ubiquitous London bookmaker, is offering 3/1 odds on Blatter not surviving until Euro 2012)
But Sepp Blatter was on pretty thin ice already, and it’s possible that the organization may quickly reach a consensus that it’s finally time for him to go.