Opinionista Victor Dlamini 12 February 2010

Blatter comes out fighting for Africa

Someone finally had to say it. Europe is deeply resentful that the Fifa World Cup is coming to Africa.

The Europeans have a sickening sense of entitlement to the soccer tournament, and ever since Fifa announced South Africa as the 2010 host, they have tried every underhanded method to discredit the country. I’m glad that now Fifa president Sepp Blatter has spoken up – he’s probably had enough of the whining from spoilt Europeans about ‘security’ in South Africa during the World Cup. 

As well as responding to security concerns, Fifa has already commented on other negative perceptions of South Africa. Last month Fifa general secretary Jerome Valke called for “fair treatment for South Africa”, and told (implicitly European) fans: “Don’t kill the World Cup before it has even happened.” He acknowledged that there were some problems, and that it was “very difficult to find a seat from Europe to South Africa for the World Cup”, but said he found it sad to wake up every morning and read articles saying: “Fifa and (Sepp) Blatter made the wrong decision to host the World Cup in South Africa.”

Now Blatter has added his opinion, and he knows what he is talking about when he says: “There is still this feeling in the so-called ‘old world’ that why the hell should South Africa organise a World Cup. Why the hell?” Blatter has decided that it’s time to call Europe’s bluff and state publicly their deeply-held opposition to Africa’s hosting of the Fifa World Cup. The European lobby tried to gang up against Blatter during 2006 his bid for re-election to the Fifa presidency, attempting, unsuccessfully, to oust him from his position because of his support for Africa’s right to host the World Cup. 

Blatter’s angry words stem from the comments made by German Football League boss Reinhard Rauball who “demanded” South Africa must take action following the attack in Togo. Rauball’s language is telling. He “demanded”, and one wonders if he has forgotten that just prior to Germany hosting the Fifa World Cup in 2006 there were acts of terrorism in neighbouring Spain that left nearly 200 people dead. And yet no one “demanded” Germany to do something about what was clearly a domestic Spanish security problem. The European press did not go into a frenzy about how unsafe the 2006 World Cup in Germany would be as a result of the Madrid attacks. Yet the same hacks somehow make the connection between the attack on the Togo team in distant Angola with security in South Africa. 

Over time it has become clear that for the highly organised Europe lobby, security is a convenient red herring, their real goal is to sow long and lasting doubt about the ability and crucially, the wisdom of bringing the Fifa World Cup to Africa. They understand that if they can create and sustain a feeling of unease and insecurity about Africa’s ability to host a safe World Cup, then next time an African country bids to host this tournament, the odds will be stacked heavily against them receiving Fifa’s approval.  

Who can forget the fury of the Europeans when Fifa announced that the World Cup would be held on a rotating basis by the various continental federations during the bidding for the 2006 Fifa World Cup? Once they had digested the import of the rotation system, the Europeans were outraged, and their well-oiled PR machinery took Fifa head on. 

Then UEFA boss, Leonard Johansson, led the chorus of protests at this Fifa decision. “Do you mean that Europe has to wait for 16 years before it hosts a World Cup?” one of them famously asked. Blatter himself was the main sponsor of the rotation system, as he believed that it was no longer equitable for Europe to host every other Fifa World Cup, as has been the practice till the 2006 Fifa World Cup held in Germany. Blatter went around the world, passionately arguing in front of the various confederations that it was time soccer adapted. He had naively assumed that the Europeans believed in the spirit of fair play that is part of the Fifa ethos, but he was badly mistaken.  

In October 2007 Europe’s all-powerful anti-rotation lobby finally bullied Fifa into submission and a terse announcement announcing the end of rotation was made in Zurich following a decision by vote at a Fifa executive committee meeting. The announcement is striking for its understatement. It simply said: “The World Cup will no longer be rotated among continents, a decision… that will open the race for the 2018 tournament. The decision came in a vote by soccer’s governing body.”

This backward decision dealt a body blow to the aspirations of the other continents and confederations to host the Fifa World Cup on an equal footing with Europe. As it is, Europe has already unfairly hosted the bulk of the tournaments, and while the Fifa executive committee decision of 29 October 2007 ostensibly announced the end of the rotation system among continents, in effect it reinstated Fifa’s unofficial policy of awarding Europe every other World Cup. After all the fanfare that accompanied the introduction of the rotation system among continents, which Blatter had sold with such passion, eloquence and sincerity, the shocking decision to reverse this equitable system was slipped in via the back door. 

Once again Europe’s highly funded, highly organised and highly vocal soccer bullies had used their over-representation on the Fifa executive committee to get their way: this time to conveniently scupper the rotational system before the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football could host the World Cup after South America. So Europe got what it always wanted: to keep things the way they always were. The motto of the European lobby seems to be: “Forget fair play, forget any sense of decency and democracy and just treat the Fifa World Cup as if it were Europe’s property that can be shared with others at Europe’s pleasure.” 

And that’s why we must all be glad that the Fifa president has had enough of the largely disingenuous concerns about security and has instead focused our minds on Europe’s real opposition to Africa hosting the Fifa World Cup. For it has become apparent that no matter how well South Africans demonstrate that they will host a safe World Cup, the naysayers, led by the Europeans, will continue to express their reservations. What’s more, they will go so far as to fabricate false stories to ensure that there’s a maximum fear factor that soils perceptions of the first Fifa World Cup on African soil. 

I think we must all be thankful to Sepp Blatter for having the courage to tell us why the Europeans have tried every trick in the book to sow doubt about Africa’s ability to host a successful Fifa World Cup. Their litany of dirty tricks have included planting stories in their media that Fifa had a Plan B, and even a Plan C, to take the World Cup to Australia should it be “unsafe” to host in South Africa.  But their real intention was to inflict long-term damage on Africa’s credibility as a host of future Fifa World Cups. 

Let’s hope that Blatter’s outburst acts as a catalyst to weaken Europe’s unjust grip on the Fifa World Cup. As he adds: “It was easier for them to go down to Africa – the colonialists in the past 100 years – to take out all the best, and now to take out all the best footballers.” Blatter continues: “When they have to give something back they don’t want to go.” A clearly exasperated Blatter then asks: “What is that? It is a lack of respect, a lack of respect for the whole of Africa.” Blatter is right, and his anger is shared by millions around the world who see their right to host the Fifa World Cup frustrated and delayed by those with a sense of entitlement to what should be a global asset.

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