Sepp Blatter may have put his foot in it again this week, but the FIFA President is as unlikely as ever to relinquish his position, much to the chagrin of football fans everywhere.
No, hold on, not everywhere – but in England, where Blatter is less popular than George Bush burning a poppy. Morally upstanding football figures from the ex-convict Joey Barton to Rio Ferdinand, who once missed a drugs test, and the once Ulrika Jonsson beating Stan Collymore have lined up to attack Blatter. But there are many places around the world where the FIFA President is actually rather popular. This is not to excuse any of the more bizarre, ridiculous statements he has come out with, such as this week’s suggestion that racism can be swept under the carpet with a handshake.
It should not be forgotten though, when considering the storm over Blatter’s comments on racism, that England not long ago (the 60s and 70s) had a President, Stanley Rous, who did worse. He resisted calls to ostracise the apartheid regime in South Africa, and managed the incredible achievement of giving the Soviet Union the moral high ground when trying to compel them to play in Chile’s National stadium at the time when it was being used quite literally as a slaughter house by the country’s leader, Salvador Allende . When the Soviets refused to play a World Cup qualifying play off in the stadium, they were kicked out of the competition.
Rous’s Eurocentric approach has reaped much of what England has sown (or rather failed to sow) in the years that have followed his departure. The rest of the world – from Africa to South America – got very little from Rous. His departure has ushered in the opening up of football to the world. Africa, the Americas and Asia have been traditionally sidelined; now they have a real say in world football’s political structures. A vote from a Congolese member in FIFA congress is worth as much as one in England.
Since 1998, when Blatter was elected, the number of tournaments FIFA has held has grown exponentially. There is the women’s World Cup, women’s under 17 and 20 tournaments, men’s under 17 and 20 tournaments and various other events. The Club World Cup is another.
In 2015, the Women’s World Cup will be held in Canada. Last year, the Club World Cup was held in Abu Dhabi, and this year in Japan. This year’s under 17 World Cup was held in Mexico, and the under 20 World Cup in Colombia. The likes of Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates have held the under 20 World Cup and the under 17 World Cup in Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago among others.
There is a theme here. Take Nigeria for example – it lacks the infrastructure to host a World Cup, and is isolated diplomatically in Africa by the Confederation of African Football, who have consistently overlooked their bids to host continental events. For FIFA to bring even a youth World Cup to the country is a huge boost both financially and from a sporting perspective. Then there is Azerbaijan, similarly given the right to stage a FIFA tournament, though it stands little chance of hosting a major sporting event in the immediate future (though the oil rich state has managed to cobble together a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics).
For these countries, they have seen their opportunities to host tournaments, generate revenue and improve infrastructure significantly increase under Blatter. That’s what hosting a tournament does – it speeds up the pace with which you can build new roads, airports and other vital infrastructural projects. FIFA under Blatter has helped many nations around the world to do this, regardless of whether or not he is corrupt, racist or sexist, as many allege. True or not, such allegations can’t be viewed on their own when assessing the role Blatter has played in recent years. In England, his tenure may be seen in wholly negative terms; comments about our media (none of whom it should be noted, bar one or two exceptions, have ever spoken a word to the 75 year old during their careers) and two failed World Cup bids are hardly endearing to the public. But football does not revolve around England.