FIFA President Seeks Image Makeover; Calls for Tougher Racism Sanctions
October 28, 2013
Sepp Blatter in animated form at the FA's 150th anniversary gala dinner (Getty)
(WFI) Sepp Blatter strongly defended FIFA’s corruption-hit reputation and has urged people to re-evaluate his leadership following a string of scandals that have rocked world football’s federation.
Speaking to students at Oxford University on Friday, the 77-year-old Swiss addressed FIFA’s soiled image following the presidential and 2018/2022 World Cup bidding cash-for-votes affairs that nearly destroyed the governing body three years ago.
Seeking to buff his image as a reformer in the wake of the corruption affairs that led to eight FIFA ExCo members either being banned or quitting the ruling body, he said: “I treasure this chance to show you who I am, and what FIFA really stands for, beyond the headlines and the spin.”
“Perhaps you think I am a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of the world and out of football! The Godfather of the FIFA gravy train! An out-of-touch, heartless schmoozer! There are not many names that the media haven’t thrown at me in the last few years,” Blatter said in his address.
“And I would be lying to you if it did not hurt, even if you know that it goes with the territory. People like a scapegoat, of course, but how could things have become so twisted?
“As you can see, I am not some overbearing bully who can intimidate my critics with one look and strong arm governments to my will.”
Responding to those critics who questioned FIFA’s work, he talked up the organisation’s global development work for its 209 member FAs.
“There are those who will tell you that FIFA is just a conspiracy, a scam, accountable to nobody and too powerful for anyone to resist,” he said.
“There are those who will tell you of the supposed sordid secrets that lie deep in our Bond villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich, where we apparently plot to exploit the unfortunate and the weak.”
“They would have you believe that I sit in my office with a sinister grin, gently stroking the chin of an expensive, white Persian cat as my terrible sidekicks scour the earth to force countries to host the World Cup and to hand over all of their money,” he added, in one of the best lines from his rambling speech.
He also reference the World Cup bidding race that resulted in Russia and Qatar winning hosting rights following a secret ballot of just 22 members in December 2010.
“Contrary to what you might have heard, FIFA does not expect host nations to hand over suitcases of cash to FIFA. We do not ask for billions of dollars in public money and then bury it all in the Alps.
“We take the money we receive from broadcasters and sponsors during the World Cup and we put the majority of it back into developing football around the world, running and governing the global game, staging all our other football tournaments and into social projects to help communities.”
Blatter’s speech returned again to his own standing in world sport. He has unsuccessfully attempted to rebuild his image that was left in tatters by a series of scandals, notably the ISL and bidding affairs. His handling of the presidential scandal that led to his rival Mohamed Bin Hammam being banned did him no favours.
Dismissing criticisms that he wields too much power at the top of the sport, he said: “I cannot cherry pick my friends or allies. FIFA's executive committee is chosen by our member associations through their confederations.
“All our big decisions in football are decided by our members. One nation, one vote. That is how it should as it means all voices are heard. It means no one person is too powerful.
“I am a servant of football. Not a dictator. Not the exploiter.”
After weathering the storm of criticism
FA president the Duke of Cambridge shares a joke with FA chairman Greg Dyke and UEFA president Michel Platini at the association's anniversary celebrations in London (Getty)
that came his way following England’s ignominious exit from the 2018 World Cup bidding race having garnered just one vote, Blatter said FIFA had nothing against the UK and its people.
“My love for the United Kingdom and its culture and heritage is rock solid,” he said, before praising different aspects of its football make-up.
"This is the birthplace of association football. And what a history of great players, great teams. Manchester United… Liverpool… Spurs… Arsenal… Celtic… Rangers. And you share your love of these teams with fans all over the world.
"We applaud the strong stand you have taken against the scourge of racism in football and in society. We celebrate with you the success of the Premier League in raising the profile of football across the world and driving the game forward. And we work hand-in-hand with the International Football Association Board – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – to decide the laws of the game in football."
Racism Row Prompts Blatter Crackdown
Blatter’s address to the Oxford Union came the day before he spoke at the English FA’s 150th anniversary dinner on Saturday. He called for tougher sanctions to be used to combat racism, suggesting teams should be thrown out of competitions for abuse by fans.
"We need to eliminate teams from a competition or deduct points. Only by such decisions is it possible to go against racism and discrimination. If we don't do that it will go on and go on. We have to stop it; we need the courage to do it,” he said.
The racism row involving Manchester City's Yaya Toure, who accused CSKA Moscow fans of making monkey chants at him, has reignited the debate around sanctions for such abuse.
CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, chairman of the FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination, met Toure at the weekend to discuss the incident.
Blatter said fines were not enough of a deterrent and it was “nonsense to have matches played without spectators because it is against the spirit of football and against the visiting team”.
"We can do something better to fight racism and discrimination. This is one of the villains we have today in our game. But it is only with harsh sanctions that racism and discrimination can be washed out of football."
Commenting after his speech, he added: “FIFA has to show zero tolerance to any form of discrimination. If we do not apply this approach, then we have failed.”
“We cannot be the police all around the world. But FIFA will intervene in our competitions. Football has a pyramid structure. We have confederations and member associations. This has to also be tackled by organisers of other competitions.”
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke is in Kazan today and tomorrow for talks about Russia 2018 preparations and an LOC board meeting on Tuesday.
FIFA tells INSIDER that Valcke will have some site talks with sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who also sits on FIFA's ruling body, and Russia 2018 CEO Alexei Sorokin at the Kazan World Cup stadium later today.
Blatter to Meet Emir in Qatar
Qatar 2022 confirmed to INSIDER that The FIFA president will meet with the Emir of Qatar on Nov. 9 to discuss concerns over workers’ rights issues linked to construction of World Cup stadia.
Earlier this month, Blatter pledged to hold the high-level talks in the wake of slave labour concerns in Qatar raised in an investigation by the Guardian newspaper.
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
Your best source of news about the global football business is World Football INSIDER
Get Free WFI news bulletins Click Here
(Copyright 1992 - 2013, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of World Football Insider and Around the Rings, Inc.)