“Crisis? We are not in a crisis,” said a defiant Sepp Blatter at a Fifa press conference. In the wake of the huge uproar caused by allegations levelled by a top Fifa executive at the global football organisation, Blatter’s face told a very different story to his defiant words. To South Africans who regularly watch politicians squirm under extreme duress, it couldn't have been more familiar. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
In a 30-minutes press conference on Monday with journalists at Fifa’s Zurich headquarters, the embattled president of Fifa presented an all-too-familiar face, which has come to represent the bureaucracy of the global football organisation – defensive, cantankerous and laced with a disturbing complacency that refused to entertain any suggestions of ill health within the organisation. Blatter fought with the hostile journalists and finally left the stage in a huff after taking a minute to lecture the press on respect and attitude. It was a sad sight and probably did more to crush the hope for the global football reform than anything he’s ever said or done before.
It is very difficult to pin down exactly why Fifa does what it does, especially when it comes to allegations of corruption, but Tuesday’s press conference was called to address what Blatter would do after David Triesman, former head of the British Football Association, told Britain’s House of Commons that four Fifa executive committee members had sought bribes in exchange for voting for England to host the 2018 World Cup. Blatter’s answer to that pressing question was “nothing”. Nothing would be done because there wasn’t any evidence.
In October 2010, Fifa executive committee members Amos Amadu and Reynald Temarii were caught in a Sunday Times (UK) sting trying to elicit bribes for their vote in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Adamu banned for three years and fined R79,800 while Temarii was banned for one year and fined R39,900.
Watch: Fifa clears Blatter
Blatter said there would be no further investigation within the organisation on that particular scandal. Fifa had previously asked the England FA to compile a report on Triesman’s allegations. Blatter said at the press conference “there are no elements in this report that would even prompt [sic] of any proceedings.” He went on to say, “But in the interests of transparency we have agreed that a comprehensive summary of this report made by James Dingelmans on behalf of the FA would be published.
“We are also happy that we have received no evidence from the Sunday Times or from any announced whistleblowers with regards to allegations made against two of the members of the executive committee. The World Cup 2022 is not touched by that and so[sic] is the World Cup 2018,” Blatter said.
The Fifa executive committee chooses the countries which host the Fifa World Cup tournaments.
Responding to a question about controversy surrounding Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup, Blatter said their decision to award Qatar this prestigious event wouldn’t be revisited. “I believe that the decision which we took for the World Cup 2022 was done in exactly the same pattern and the same environment (as) we have done for the 2018 and there was no problem for Fifa executive committee to act in this direction,” he said.
The biggest stink surrounding Fifa at the moment is the suspension on Sunday of two of its executive committee members. On 29 May the Fifa ethics committee chose to provisionally suspend Fifa vice president Jack Warner and Mohamed bin Hammam, head of Asian Football, after Chuck Blazer, another executive committee member, alleged Bin Hammam had offered bribes to the Caribbean Confederations Union at a meeting arranged by Warner. Both men promptly denied the charges, but Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy as Fifa president before he was suspended by the ethics committee. Blatter was called before the ethics committee too, but was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Watch: Fifa suspends two senior officials in bribery scandal
Warner hit back at his suspension, claiming it was politically motivated, and released an email from Jérôme Valcke, in which the Fifa secretary general seems to suggest that Qatar “bought” the 2022 World Cup. The email reads: “For MBH, I never understood why he was running. If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express how much he does not like anymore JSB [Blatter]. Or he thought you can buy Fifa as they [Qatar] bought the WC.”
Valcke responded to Warner’s claim, saying the email had been misread. “When I refer to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in that email, what I wanted to say is that the winning bid used their financial strength to lobby for support,” Valcke said.
Bin Hammam was the only Fifa executive committee member running against Blatter, and he had promised to clean up the organisation. Wednesday’s election may now be nothing more than a coronation of Blatter, who will run alone should everything go to plan.
Blatter replied to a question about postponing the upcoming election (for his position) that the only people who can change anything in Wednesday’s election are the members of Fifa. He said the decision as to how to restore Fifa’s credibility in future and whether that should be done with him as president rested with the congress (Fifa’s parliament), which is made up of delegates from all the member associations.
He would not countenance the possibility of outside investigation into Fifa’s affairs. “If the governments will try to intervene in Fifa’s organisation then something is wrong,” Blatter said. “I think Fifa is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside Fifa. And I’m sure that on the day after tomorrow the Congress will show the unity and the solidarity and will solve the problems which will be, if there are any, in the Congress.”
Fifa has a history of dealing very heavily with governments that try to interfere with its procedures. Those countries find themselves unceremoniously tossed out of the global football association’s embrace.
Watch: Suspended Fifa executive Jack Warner: Sepp Blatter must be stopped
Blatter suggested very strongly at hostilities between Fifa and the media, naming the British press as a place where Fifa could improve its image. He stopped just short of blaming the media outright for Fifa’s scandals, a strategy with which we’ve become familiar in South African politics.
Things got uglier towards the end of the press conference, as the press grew tired of Blatter’s bluster and began firing questions at him even when they didn’t have the microphone that was being passed around. When he was asked whether Fifa’s current state could be called a crisis, he uttered his famous “what crisis” line. His words bear repeating in full.
He said, “Crisis? What is a crisis? If somebody of you would describe to me what is a crisis then I would answer. Football is not in a crisis. When you have seen the final match of the Champion’s League, then you must applaud. You have seen what the game is, what is fair play on the game [sic] is and what good control of the game is. We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties. And these difficulties will be solved; will be solved inside of our family”.
While Blatter was indignant and scolding when he faced the press, the Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke had the smugness of a man who knows he’s untouchable when he squared off against reporters on Sunday in the wake of the suspension of Bin Hammam and Warner. When asked whether Wednesday’s election shouldn’t be postponed, he snorted and retorted, “Why? Because the media is saying we should postpone these elections? Because? For what reason?”
The message to the press couldn’t have been clearer if Valcke had gotten up and given the journalist a big middle finger.
The “no crisis” soundbite resonates awfully with former president Thabo Mbeki’s assessment of Zimbabwe after the 2008 national elections which saw Robert Mugabe retain power after losing the election. Then of course, there was Julius Malema’s now infamous rant aimed at BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher, where he declared that Luthuli House was a “revolutionary house” and that Fisher could therefore not offend him while there.
Blatter himself said, “I respect you. Please respect me. We are not in a bazaar here. We are in the Fifa house. We are in front of a very important congress. So please” when the hectoring got to him.
And the press could forget about approaching him after the press briefing. “I will not go into discussion individually with people [who] like to create problems,” Blatter said.
As Blatter said, the question of whether Wednesday’s election can go ahead is now up to the congress delegates. It is a bit absurd to think there may be a coup. Blatter’s detractors have no other candidate behind whom to coalesce. Not only is Blatter’s only rival Bin Hammam now out of the running, nobody else is stepping up to the plate. The head of the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) Michel Platini ruled out any chance of running against Blatter. One of the Globe’s best players ever, Platini is perhaps football’s second most powerful bureaucrat, but not even he is taking chances against the Fifa president.
But this story is far is from over and in all likelihood it will get even more sordid as more details emerge, but what all of this says about South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup is a question we as South Africans need to start asking, as well as our losing of the 2006 Cup. And just about every other decision that Fifa has ever made. The “beautiful game” deserves better. DM
Photo: FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures as he addresses a news conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich May 30, 2011. Blatter denied soccer’s governing body was in crisis on Monday, saying his organisation would solve any “difficulties” internally. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
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