At the grand old age of 79, and despite resounding re-election for a fifth term, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has fallen on his sword. At a Zurich news conference yesterday evening he announced that he would be stepping down and that a Special Congress would be held to elect his successor. FIFA, said Blatter, was in need of deep structural reform, which he had been fighting for, and his moving aside would clear the way for this reform to take place.
He identified some critical problems within FIFA and promised that they would be dealt with. The way he spoke was dignified, serious, and worthy of respect.
The lights dim. The lonely figure, now slightly stooped, exits through a door, stage left. The music rolls.
Re-wind the tape.
Listening to Blatter was like hearing the elderly President of the Master Burglars Association arguing for stronger locks and better alarm systems.
He made no mention of the string of U.S. led arrests that have rocked FIFA to its very core, nor of the allegations of bribery, including one that South Africa paid US$10 million to secure necessary votes to win the 2010 World Cup. Nor did he allude to the fact that for the past 20 or so years, he has been Mr FIFA, the Puppet Master. If you wanted anything to happen in world football, his was the name you turned to in your contact book. In other words, if problems developed which now require “deep structural reform”, they developed on his watch.
But from King Sepp, not a whisper of that, no acknowledgement of even the teensiest possible sliver of responsibility. Read his speech carefully and you’ll find that the old standby – “other people” – were to blame. He’s just going to fade into the sunset “for the good of the game”.
A number of thoughts emerge.
First is that just a couple of days ago, the selfsame Blatter was announcing to anyone who cared to listen that his re-election meant that he was the man to take FIFA forward. So something has clearly happened behind the scenes to convince him to go. The Blatters of this world do not “go quietly into the long goodnight”. Perhaps his arrest is imminent? We can but hope.
Second, it’s very likely that he believes his own news release – all the guff about “having wanted and worked towards reform”. It’s another tendency of people who have been in power far too long – they genuinely think that they can spout garbage and that you and I will believe it. To use an old cliché, though, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” It had been evident from long before South Africa’s involvement in the 2010 World Cup that FIFA was one of the world’s more corrupt organisations, just like the International Olympic Committee before it under that arch robber-baron and Nazi lover, Avery Brundage. The longer Blatter remained at the helm – like Brundage – the more evident the corruption became to more and more people.
South Africa paid a US$10 milllion bribe to buy Jack Warner of CONCACAF’s vote? Well, we might or might not have. As the embers of 2010’s warm nationalist fervour get raked over one last time, it’s conceivable that we genuinely wanted to establish a fund to benefit the African diaspora in the Caribbean. Isn’t it? After all, the ANC government has done plenty of equally daft things with public money with Jack Warner nowhere in sight.
(OK – I confess that just writing it down makes it hugely improbable, and that’s despite Danny Jordaan’s spirited denials.)
But by the time we get past Russia’s 2018 World Cup and arrive at Qatar in 2022, and the rushed manner in which that little decision was taken, it’s as clear as daylight that the fix was in.
But third – and finally – the lesson comes home and it’s one for Jacob Zuma, president not of a corrupt football governing body but of an increasingly corrupt nation at the southern tip of Africa. Like Blatter, King Jacob believes that he can fool all of the people all of the time. Witness his antics in Parliament recently. Like Blatter, he believes his own press releases, as in the Police Minister’s report on Nkandla and why he shouldn’t pay back the money. Like Blatter, Zuma genuinely believes that he is above the law. And like Blatter, Zuma is also fundamentally averse to admitting that any of South Africa’s woes have anything to do with him or his leadership. It’s all down to apartheid – the ANC’s equivalent of “other people”.
Like Sepp Blatter, I have no doubt that Jacob Zuma will struggle on for as long as he can, ruthlessly eliminating challenges and competition. Blatter, in case you didn’t know, was famous for trampling on opponents.
The only consolation I take from the five act tragedy called Sepp Blatter is that, with almost identical plot elements, our own multi-part tragedy called Jacob Zuma is likely to arrive at a similar ending.