Mark Steel on Sepp Blatter ― the 'most repulsive man in football'

Saturday, June 21, 2014
Enjoying the World Cup always requires putting to the back of your mind the sordid business and politics behind it, but FIFA head Blatter has attained such squalid heights of repulsitude that he's made it harder than ever

Even if you have no interest in football and have never watched a single game before now, this is the time to accept that all of us, including you, should hate Sepp Blatter.

Partly this is because recent investigations, which have taken years to complete, show that he's repulsive. He may have responded with a statement that “I completely deny I am in any way repulsive”, but the evidence is overwhelming, with further reports set to disclose staggering global levels of repulsion he can't ignore.

If you do enjoy football, this is devastating, because the World Cup should be a glorious month of thrilling frivolity. But instead he'll be there, spoiling it with his difficult-to-ignore repulsiveness, like if you were at a wonderful barbecue on a scorching summer's day, but it turned out that Robert Mugabe was serving the sausages.

Most obvious is the filth that's led to the 2022 World Cup being handed to Qatar, the most magnificently ill-equipped nation to hold a football tournament ― a decision about as sensible as if Blatter had announced: “It will be held on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas. One goal will be at the summit and the other at the bottom of an inaccessible ravine crawling with deadly snakes, which will encourage teams to break quickly out of defence.”

It will be barely possible to watch the games, let alone play them in Qatar's heat, but Blatter will declare it a success, and congratulate the winners, a Bedouin tribe whose team is a herd of camels, which beat Italy in the final, after its players melted and were drunk by thirsty scorpions.

The Qatar decision is now so tainted with allegations of bribery that most of the main sponsors are making anxious noises, including Coca-Cola. So Sepp Blatter's achievement is to make the likes of Coca-Cola go, “Oh dear, that's TOO capitalist” ― an accomplishment as impressive as making Abu Hamza, the fundamentalist Egyptian-British cleric extradited to the US, say, “Steady on, I don't like Allah THAT much.”

But for Blatter it was only a start, since he's now accused the investigators who allege bribery of “racism”.

At least he's willing to change his mind, as three years ago he insisted there was “no racism in football”. Because when a crowd makes monkey noises at Black players, you have to search for the subtle racist subtext, but when someone says, “Hang on, a chap who voted for a football tournament to be held in a desert seems to have been given three million quid by the people who own the desert. I wonder if there's a connection”, then racism is the only explanation for such an enquiry.

With genius, Blatter has created a World Cup in Brazil so costly and authoritarian that most Brazilians seem ambivalent about it, and hundreds of thousands have demonstrated against it. Consider the splendor of this: he's got Brazilians opposing a World Cup in Brazil.

This is quite a talent he's got. If he were in charge of road-building, he'd end up with Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson in a tree protesting about too many cars on the road.

Partly the discontent stems from the cost of the tournament, but there's also a sense of betrayal that the game's been robbed from the people and handed to Blatter and his mates.

He insisted Brazil rebuild the stadiums, including the famous Maracana in Rio, now run by US firm AEG, to make them “FIFA standard” ― so the Maracana is now described by almost every writer in Brazil as “soulless”.

The theory seems to have been this: “We should hold the World Cup in Brazil, as football has a marvelous people's atmosphere there. The only problem is the people, who are a grubby-looking bunch of peasants, so we'll clear them out and enjoy the matches properly.”

Indigenous people of Brazil have been moved away from areas outside the stadiums, and tear-gassed by police when they protested. We'll probably find out the government has held auditions to select who can go to the matches, with someone from a modeling agency yelling, “Pout, darling, that's lovely, now scream, 'HAND BALL, ref, you blind twirp' for me, but keep a straight back, lovey, that's gorgeous, okay, we'll let you know.”

Blatter's general secretary Jerome Valcke explained modern football tactics most thoroughly when he said he enjoyed working with Russia's Vladimir Putin, but “working with democratically elected governments can complicate organizing tournaments”. You can understand why executives from FIFA find democracy frustrating. They might have friends who have to pay a fortune to rig a vote.

Luckily, Blatter set up a group he calls his “Council of Wisdom”, to advise on international matters. Prominent in this council is former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who once displayed the wisdom of secretly carpet-bombing Cambodia.

Maybe Blatter could liven up matches that are too defensive by installing Kissenger to manage one of the teams, so we can hear the commentator say: “And Ghana's substitute has come off the bench and napalmed the entire Portuguese midfield. Well, as we all know, the thing with Kissinger is you just can't give him that much space.”

Blatter has announced: “There is no reason why our game couldn't be played one day on other planets,” so the press should investigate whether one of Saturn's moons has been recently transferred to a minor football official's account. Then we'll know Saturn is soon to be announced as the venue for the inaugural Galaxy Cup.

The World Cup always provides spectacularly memorable drama, anticipation, tension, emotion and life-affirmingly heart-stopping pointlessness. It always requires putting to the back of your mind the sordid business and politics behind it, but Blatter has attained such squalid heights of repulsitude that he's made it harder than ever. So it's only right that all reasonable people should hate him for that.

[First published at the Independent.]

From GLW issue 1013