KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- If ever FIFA’s reform committee needed evidence to justify an age limit of 74 then 79-year-old Sepp Blatter* provided it this week with his delusional self-justification and rewriting of history to suit his latest agenda.
Context is everything . . . the interview in question was conducted with the Russian news agency TASS from the one country to which Blatter can travel safely beyond the unextraditable safely of Switzerland. Doubtless he believes his new best friend, Vladimir Putin, will welcome him as a guest of honour at the 2018 World Cup.
Blatter believes he and Putin have much in common: both presidents misunderstood abroad and hence targets for unjustified attack from jealous critics.
How better to cement that personal alliance than by delivering a good kicking to the Wicked West (United States, England, European Union etc), defined as antagonists for both himself and the Russian leader?
Context is everything . . . underlying Blatter’s comments is the ongoing anti-Michel Platini campaign which began with snide remarks last year and has been ramped up steadily including the document for which one of Blatter’s over-enthusiastic staff paid with his job.
The current crisis, he insisted, would never have arisen had Platini not switched his World Cup favours in the autumn of 2010 from United States to Qatar at the behest of then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Presumably Blatter would have been happy to continue turning a blind eye to all the self-interested financial rip-offs perpetrated by some of the most senior officials in the game. Legally, Jeff Webb & Co are innocent until proven guilty but Chuck Blazer, Jose Hawilla and Jack Warner’s sons have already held up their hands and pleaded guilty; Marco Polo Del Nero’s* refusal to leave Brazil is an admission of its own.
The unravelling began not directly from the Qatar vote but with Warner and Mohamed bin Hammam’s brazen cash-for-votes escapade in Port of Spain in May 2013. Blazer’s whistleblowing drew unwitting attention to his own murky finances. Ironically, like Al Capone, he and the greedy hierarchies of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL owed their downfall to the taxman.
Context is everything . . . Blatter’s rewriting of recent history to suit his legacy has been built around a tale that the Grand Plan was always for Russia and the United States to be awarded the World Cups of 2018 and 2022.
In fact – anyone around FIFA at the time in 2007 of the fatal decision to run two bids simultaneously – will recall that it was all about the cash.
Only five years earlier FIFA had been brought to its financial knees by the collapse into bankruptcy of commercial partner ISL. In 2007 the priority was still to rebuild the bank balance. For finance president Julio Grondona, for TV and rights chairman Blazer, for secretary-general Jerome Valcke (formerly of FIFA Marketing) running two World Cup bids represented a route back to financial security.
Almost all the bidders for the World Cups applied to host both 2018 and 2022. Only some way down the bidding road did UEFA’s new president, Platini, resolve with Blatter that Europe should take precedence for 2018 and leave the rest of the world to fight over 2022.
Then, and only then, did the Russia/US duality become even a possibility.
Context is everything . . . The World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010 changed all perceptions over the bidding and likely voting options.
Until then it had always been considered that the World Cup could be awarded to a ‘safe’ host and a ‘risk’ host. Thus France had 1998 but Japan/Korea 2002; thus Germany had 2006 but South Africa 2010.
The progressive gamble to take the 2010 finals to South Africa was a staging success (OK, the football was poor but that was not the point): 2010 proved that, if FIFA threw in enough money and resources, it could stage the World Cup anywhere. No more need for a safety net.
Context is everything . . . Throughout his presidency but particularly after rubbing shoulders with Nelson Mandela, Blatter grew more obsessed with the attainment of a Nobel Peace Prize for football as a means of worldwide social and political engagement. Of course ‘football’ meant FIFA and its president.
Then he saw awarding the World Cups to old super-powers Russia and the US as the last step to transform that dream into reality. In the autumn of 2010 – not back when bidding was opened – Blatter saw his Nobel Prize within reach.
Of course the bidding campaigns and their supporters talked to each other, discussed options and – in the case of Portugal/Spain and Qatar – even agreed a vote-swap pact.
The Russia/US option was tempting both financially and politically as well as egotistically. Blatter, as president of FIFA, would have been within his rights to try to steer unsecured votes in that direction. But, bear in mind also that eight members of the exco in December 2010 represented World Cup bidders.
Their priorities were not Blatter’s.
Nor those of Grondona, nor those of Platini.
The following May, in a German media interview, Grondona said: “Yes, I voted for Qatar, because a vote for the US would be like a vote for England, and that was not possible.”
Platini has denied that he succumbed to pressure from then French President Sarkozy to vote for Qatar. But Blatter believes he did. One man’s word against another. Who do you believe?
Context is everything . . . England’s former bid officials – and FA chairman Greg Dyke who was not on board in December 2010 – have railed at Blatter’s TASS interview as justifying a demand for a bid costs refund.
Yet what cannot be denied is that Russia threw more resources at their bid than all the other 2018 hopefuls put together, co-ordinated from Putin’s office and with a deputy prime minister in charge, pulling on all the levers of the state.
Context is everything . . . Shortly before the vote The Sunday Times raised hackles at FIFA in general and with Blatter in particular through the cash-for-votes stories which ultimately saw Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii suspended from the exco ahead of the ballot.
The BBC, with its highly-critical Panorama programme, twisted the knife. England bid officials tried to prevent its airing, in vain. They recognised, correctly, the damage caused. Blatter referred to the British media assaults in a review immediately before the vote. Maybe, if the FA is reclaiming money, it should also approach the BBC.
In any case – and given that FIFA is something of a sieve – if the vote had been rigged far in advance then exco members (obviously) and bid leaders (if they were on top of their jobs) would have known. Did Geoff Thompson know and not think to tell Andy Anson? Really?
Context is everything . . . Blatter, with his reputation shredded and the man who wrecked his FIFA Nobel dream (as he sees it) still out there, has his own resentful agenda.
Everyone is against him: the United States, England, UEFA, Platini, the European Parliament and even his own executive committee. But, really, no-one is doing more to undermine Blatter’s legacy than the man himself.
* The cast (above): in order of appearance:
Sepp Blatter, Swiss FIFA president, currently suspended by the ethics committee
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
Michel Platini, French president of European federation UEFA, currently suspended by the FIFA ethics committee
Jeffrey Webb (Cayman Islands), ex-FIFA vice-president and ex-president of CONCACAF (central and North American confederation) on bail in the US after denying FIFAGate corruption charges
Chuck Blazer (US), ex-general secretary of CONCACAF and former FIFA exco member
Jose Hawilla, Brazilian multi-millionaire sports entrepreneur who pleased guilty to FIFAGate charges
Jack Warner (Trinidad & Tobago), ex-FIFA vice-president and ex-president of CONCACAF; under a life ban from football
Darian and Daryll Warner, sons of Jack Warner, pleased guilty to US FIFAGate charges
Marco Polo Del Nero, president of the Brazilian football confederation and non-attending member of the FIFA exco
Mohamed bin Hammam, Qatari former president of the Asian Football Confederation; under a life ban from football
Julio Grondona, died in 2014 while holding the presidency of the the Argentina FA and being senior vice-president and finance chairman of FIFA
Jerome Valcke, French secretary-general of FIFA, currently suspended by both FIFA and the ethics committee over financial misconduct allegations;
Greg Dyke, British media businessman, chairman of the Football Association since 2013
Amos Adamu (Nigeria), banned after the 2010 World Cup votes-for-cash scandal and currently under investigation by the FIFA ethics committee
Reynald Temarii (Tahiti), ex-president of the Oceania confederation, banned after the 2010 World Cup votes-for-cash scandal
Geoffrey Thompson, English chairman of the Football Association from 1999 to 2008; former vice-president of UEFA and FIFA
Andy Anson, chief executive of England’s 2018 World Cup bid