Once again, the cement-headed Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, has proved that soccer must be a great game if it can survive the people who run it.
Blatter, already in hot water for corruption within FIFA, apparently opens his mouth only to change feet. His latest gaffe came last week, when he suggested in television interviews with CNN and al-Jazeera that racism on the field is not a problem.
“I would deny it. There is no racism,” Blatter said. “There is maybe one of the players towards another — he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”
Needless to say, the reaction was immediate, especially in England, which has had its own racism problems in soccer and has largely surmounted them.
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who is black, lambasted Blatter, saying his comments were “so condescending it’s almost laughable” for suggesting a handshake could absolve a racist remark. He criticized FIFA for attempting to “clear up the Blatter comments with a picture of him posing with a black man.” That was Tokyo Sexwale, a FIFA official and South African government minister, seen with a laughing Blatter in a photograph seen by many as a cynical ploy to boost the FIFA boss’s anti-racism credentials.
But as the saying goes: you can’t polish a turd.
A couple of days later, Blatter issued an apology for his comments, but insisted he wouldn’t resign over the issue.
“I am sorry and I regret that my statements earlier this week have resulted in an unfortunate situation,” Blatter said. “I am committed to the fight against racism, have no doubt about that. And I want to make it very clear: I will not stop until we have stamped racism out of football.”
Once again, Blatter wheeled out Sexwale, who read out the act of contrition. The contrite football chief underlined his apology in an interview with the BBC in Zurich, saying he “deeply regretted” using “unfortunate words.”
Blatter, who was re-elected to a four-year term in June, has faced calls for his resignation, but made clear he intends to stay put.
“I cannot resign,” he told the BBC. “Why should I? To leave would be totally unfair and not compatible with my fighting spirit, my character, my energy.”
Speaking in South Africa, Sexwale said he called Blatter on Thursday night and “could feel this was a man full of contrition.” He neither sought nor received a personal apology for the earlier use of the photo of Blatter and himself.
“I’m informed that in their response (to criticism) FIFA used the picture of Mr. Blatter and myself,” Sexwale continued. “In some circles, this may have inadvertently created the impression Mr. Blatter was trying to clean up his image.”
Gee, ya think?
Sexwale, who was a member of the armed wing of the African National Congress during the struggle against racial apartheid, now sits on a FIFA committee that campaigns against racism and said FIFA uses his image “from time to time worldwide.”
“I don’t want to suspect any motive behind the authorization of that picture,” Sexwale continued. “But a perception, impressions will be created in certain circles worldwide that this was an attempt at damage control or clean up one’s image. “But I would like to believe that perhaps it was used to say, ‘We are so committed, here’s a man we all know is a freedom fighter, and he has fought against racism, how I can be involved in racism when I work with people like him?’ That’s my interpretation.”
Sexwale said he is not willing to “crucify a man or kick him when he’s down” and would “find it hard to go after a man who has apologized,” but stopped short of ruling out Blatter’s resignation.
“Such statements are quite damaging, but the magnitude and intensity of the damage cannot be known,” Sexwale said, adding that when this became clear, the FIFA executive committee would have to decide Blatter’s fate.
Right. Next we’ll have turkeys voting for Thanksgiving.
Neil Warnock, manager of Queen’s Park Rangers, no stranger himself to outrageous statements, had perhaps the best idea for getting rid of Blatter: a strike.
“Racism does happen on the field of play and the shaking of a hand just doesn’t put it right,” Warnock said. “But who is going to sack (Blatter)? I don’t see that anybody is going to sack him. I think the only way we could get him out of the situation that he is in is if every black player in the country, in every country, refused to play in the next international game.
“That’s the only way. Nothing else is going to get him out until he wants to go.”
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