A funny thing happened in international sports

27 March 2015 Comments 0

A funny thing happened in ‘sports-land’ last week; an international sports federation leader didn’t think he was accountable to the billions his organisation serves.

Last week, with FIFA’s Presidential election process beginning to gather pace, current President and candidate for re-election, Sepp Blatter, formally refused an invitation to take part in a televised debate about the future of world football. It would have included the three other candidates but not only did Mr. Blatter say ‘no’ he also declined to say why.

I should point out that Mr. Blatter was under no obligation to take part, but when all his rivals had already said ‘yes’, his decision and lack of any reasonable explanation show a level of arrogance unbecoming of a global sporting leader.

Contrary to my opening statement, the reality of course, is that this is not funny at all. Sepp Blatter, the man seeking an unprecedented fifth term as FIFA’s dictator – sorry make that President – clearly thinks he can do what he wants and still get elected. The world’s football loving public is kept in the dark and the Evasive One still expects to win.

And that’s the key point. Mr. Blatter thinks he can do what he wants because the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The secret to his confidence of course, is it’s not the fans who will be voting. With so many eligible FIFA voting members apparently wrapped around his little finger, the views of the rest of the world and the transparency of a fair and open election process simply aren’t of interest. He’s done his sums and he reckons it’s in the bag…. and stuff the rest of us.

As Charlie Sale in the UK’s Daily Mail wrote when reporting on Blatter’s dismissal of the invitation: “Far better for Blatter is to fast-track FIFA Goal Programme funding to African countries, where he enjoys mass voting support.”

The debate was jointly requested by the BBC and Sky for broadcast but deep down, Mr. Blatter must know that his global unpopularity means he has the most to lose in a public debate. That’s no way to run an international sports federation and he should not be allowed to get away with it. Sadly, FIFA’s governance (or lack thereof) allows him to do just that.

Here is an organisation that has been autocratically governed by one man who’s made sure his ‘supporters’ are locked in through ‘development projects’ and funding allocation. It’s a bit like becoming a member of the Mafia. Once you’re in, there’s no way out. Mind you, when you’re on the receiving end of the Sepp Blatter largesse, you don’t want out.

He’s been at it since he was first elected 17 years ago so by now he’s mastered the art!

All the other candidates have publicly responded to Mr. Blatter’s rejection of the public debate with former Portuguese international Luis Figo saying: “The fans deserve to know what the candidates offer for the future.” 

Apparently not Luis, apparently not.

In the UK over the next five weeks, General Election campaigning will see political leaders and candidates furiously endorsing their policies and debating publicly at every opportunity. As in most countries, it’s all part of a democratic process. Not at FIFA. What they have is a headlong descent towards a closed-shop electoral college overseen by a President who’s re-election manifesto is based on the premise that the likes of you, me and billions of others don’t have a say and don’t need to know.

How on earth can they allow such a man be re-elected?

God help us – and football – if he is.