Total Pageviews

Friday, November 18, 2011


It hasn't been a particularly good year for FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and it may just get worse after his latest comments regarding racism in football, broadcast yesterday on CNN and Al-Jazeera. In an interview with CNN sports reporter Pedro Pinto, Blatter stated that he did not believe that racism existed on the football pitch, and basically said that players abused during the course of a game should simply shake hands with the abuser at the end of the game and there let the matter rest.

During the interview, Pinto asked Blatter whether he believed that racism was evident on the pitch, Blatter replied: "I would deny it."

"There is no racism. There is maybe one of the players towards the other, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that, he should say it's a game, we are in a game."

"At the end of the game, we shake hands; this can happen because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination."

Blatter continued: "The whole world is aware of the effort we are making against racism and discrimination. And on the field of play, sometimes you say something..that is not very correct, but then at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better."

Meanwhile, Blatter, in an interview with Al-Jazeera's Lee Wellings, said this: "During a match you make a movement towards somebody..or you may say something towards somebody who is not exactly looking like you, but at the end of the match it's forgotten..On the field of play, I deny that there is racism."

When questioned by Wellings whether any action against racism on the pitch should be taken by football authorities or the police, Blatter said that it was an internal matter: "When it happens in the league, they have to make an investigation and they should come to a solution. And what would they say? They say: bring the two people together and they say 'shake hands.'"

The subject of racism was not the only matter discussed in the interview between Pinto and Blatter, but Blatter's seeming assertion that players who have been the victim of racial - and, presumably, by extension, sexist, religious and homophobic - abuse (should) turn the other cheek has caused ructions and has, quite understandably, not gone down at all well with anti-racist organisations and individuals involved in the world of football.

Both interviews touched on events which are currently unfolding in the English Premier League. Investigations are ongoing into alleged incidents of racism allegedly perpetrated by John Terry and Lúis Suarez in recent weeks. The Metropolitan Police are looking into claims that Chelsea captain Terry is alleged to have racially insulted QPR's Anton Ferdinand, while Suarez is faced with having to deal with the accusation that he did likewise to Manchester United player Patrice Evra during the 1:1 draw at Anfield last month, and was charged by the FA for racial abuse.

An excerpt from the FA's brief statement, posted on their website yesterday, is below.

"It is alleged that Suarez used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules.

It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra."

As anybody who occasionally reads this blog will know, your correspondent is a Liverpool fan, but if Suarez and Terry are found guilty of the charges laid against them, then they both deserve to be upbraided for their actions and have the book thrown at them. No excuses, no exceptions. If, on the other hand, both players are exonerated, this may leave Evra and Ferdinand open to full-blown abuse. That is also to be condemned in the strongest terms, should that happen.

Suarez allegedly called Evra a negrito (roughly translated as "dear little black one"); Suarez agreed that he did say this to Evra, but not in malice. Negrito is a diminutive of negro, and in much of Spanish-speaking South America, it is a term of endearment, meaning "friend" or "pal", which has now encompassed racial barriers. Brazilian Portuguese uses the word neguinho as a term of endearment, and this has also transgressed all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

To give an example of this, in Roberto Muylaert's book on the late, great, former Brazilian international goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa, "Barbosa - Um gol faz cinquenta anos", Barbosa was addressed by his "unofficial" daughter, Tereza Borba, as "neguinho". Barbosa was black, as was she. (In assisting with research on the two-part story on Barbosa, Moacyr Barbosa - A Miserable Life, Indeed, published on this blog earlier this year, Ms Borba also referred to Barbosa as "neguinho.") Only Suarez will know whether he used negrito pejoratively. In any case, Liverpool are standing by their man, at least for the present. The jury is out as to whether Terry will be charged by the FA; there is, as yet, no sign of that happening.

Blatter's comments were aired less than a day after the play-offs for the final four places at Euro 2012 were completed, with Ireland, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Croatia managing to qualify. Try telling Croatia's Eduardo da Silva that there is no racism in football. The former Arsenal player came on for Croatia as an 88th minute substitute against Turkey - in Zagreb - to a chorus of cheers; however, mixed in with the cheers was an audible dose of "monkey-chants." Not very edifying for a country whose national football team was in the last throes of qualifying for the final stages of a major competition. To give Blatter his dues, however, he did say during the course of the interview with CNN's Pedro Pinto that racism was often evident among those attending football matches.

Evra's United team-mate and brother of Anton Ferdinand, Rio, weighed in the growing controversy via Twitter: "Tell me I have just read Sepp Blatter's comments on racism in football wrong … if not then I am astonished.

"I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism…it seems it was just on mute for a while. Just for clarity if a player abuses a referee, does a shake of the hand after the game wipe the slate clean??"

Ferdinand also left a message on Blatter's own Twitter page: "Sepp Blatter your comments on racism are so condescending its almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?"

A statement was issued yesterday by Kick It Out (an English anti-racism organisation funded and supported by the FA, the Professional Footballers' Association and the Premier League) regarding Blatter's comments during the interviews, and this is the text in full:

"These comments are worryingly out of touch. Shaking hands to compensate for a racial slur is not what the game has signed up to, and trivialises the work of campaigns like Kick It Out, which has been in the vanguard of rooting out discrimination and unacceptable behaviour in our game for the best part of two decades.

"High-profile incidents have brought the issue of racism back into sharp focus. But complaints are still being lodged at grass roots level. Shaking hands doesn't resonate with the zero-tolerance approach we encourage and certainly wouldn't resonate with the victim of the abuse.

"Report the incident to the regulatory body, and the investigation process begins. If it's found to be proven, action must be taken. New challenges and questions are being posed in this field every day. But leadership is needed to make headway. And comments like this don't help in the ultimate goal of kicking racism out football and making it a discrimination free-zone."

In response to the criticism that was coming his way, Blatter released a statement on FIFA's website last night, which contained the following text:

"I would like to make it very clear, I am committed to the fight against racism and any type of discrimination in football and in society. I have been personally leading this battle against racism in football, which FIFA has been fighting against throughout the past years through campaigns in all of our competitions such as the “Say no to racism” campaign.

"I also know that racism unfortunately continues to exist in football, and I have never denied this. I know that it is a big problem in society, and that it also affects sport. I strongly believe that we should continue to fight all together against racism on and off the field of play, in order to eradicate this plague.

"My comments have been misunderstood. What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have “battles” with your opponents, and sometimes things are done which are wrong. But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over. Anyone who has played a football match, or a match in any sport, knows that this is the case.

"Having said that, I want to stress again that I do not want to diminish the dimension of the problem of racism in society and in sport. I am committed to fighting this plague and kicking it out of football."

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, tonight echoed the call from his Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, and that from PFA leader Gordon Taylor, for FIFA's president to resign, but Sepp Blatter won't listen to a man who is just as inept as he is, and who is a bandwagon-jumper par excellence to boot. (Poppygate and the botched attempt to oust Blatter at this year's FIFA Congress will suffice as examples of this for now. It's a shame bandwagon-jumping isn't an Olympic event; the Great Britain team would have at least one gold medal in the bag.)  Would Cameron have been more disposed toward calling for Blatter's resignation had the television interviews taken place and been broadcast in the days after either incident involving Roberto Carlos?

Blatter's English is not quite up to the Queen's standard, that's true, but his remarks came across as plainly absurd and were, at best, ill-considered and a classic case of burying one's head in the sand to an issue which still needs to be addressed. The racism issue has overshadowed one or two other potentially interesting items which were up for discussion during both interviews.

When CNN's Pedro Pinto asked Blatter what he considered his personal low point of 2011 to be, Blatter said this: "The lowest point for me was the week before the election [for the FIFA presidency] was a low point in my life.. [though the result of the election] gave me the power, gave me the confidence."

Regarding FIFA's release of the documents relating to the ISL trial, he said: "We don't want to open the case, we want to close it." (And not before time, too.) The documents are expected to contain evidence of fraud relating to the collapse of ISL in 2001. ISL, or International Sport and Leisure, assisted FIFA with its marketing strategy, and allegedly bribed high-ranking FIFA members in return for ISL being awarded broadcasting rights for FIFA tournaments throughout the 1990s.

In his interiew with Wellings, Blatter added that he had not considered resigning his post after all of the corruption scandals within FIFA, and he had been given "total confidence by" FIFA Congress. The Al-Jazeera reporter ended the interview by asking Blatter what he would like to be remembered for when he eventually steps down from football's highest post, and Blatter's reply was: "What I want to realise is at the end of my mandate is that I could say that football is part of our society, especially in the social-cultural part. Football is more than a game; it is a school of life."

If the treatment meted out to Eduardo by a section of his own supporters is anything to go by, then the school of life that is football is a very hard one indeed. He is not the only one to have suffered the monkey-chanting routine. And then there was the case of Roberto Carlos, now playing in Russia for Anzhi Machachkala, who, in a set of throwbacks to the bad, ugly, spiteful old days of hooliganism in England during the 1980s, had a banana thrust at him by a Zenit St. Petersburg supporter in March of this year, and three months later, a banana was thrown at him by a Krylya Sovetov supporter.

By no means every Russian who goes to a game is an avowed neo-Nazi, but it can hardly be denied that there is a significant racist element among Russian football supporters. Power, corruption and, erm, bananas. A heady mix awaits any foreign football fans planning on journeying to Russia for the World Cup Finals in seven years' time. Bet you all can't wait..

And, just in case you missed the interviews; here are the links, starting with Blatter's chat with CNN's Pedro Pinto:

This is the link to the Al-Jazeera interview with Lee Willings:

Andrew Jennings, the scourge of Sepp and friends and the man behind Transparency In Sport, only had this to say this evening on the man that is Blatter: "The torrent of long overdue corruption revelations are destabilising Blatter. He still clings to his fantasy that he is football, football is perfect – thus he must be."

It might not be the cronyism or the collection of corruption allegations that might be the undoing of Blatter. It might not even be this latest in a series of gaffes; this is the man who once said that he would like to see women footballers wear tighter shorts, the man who suggested that homosexuals would be better not to travel to Qatar to watch the 2022 World Cup if they were intending to indulge in any hanky-panky, the man who is unable to say that he is wrong, the man who doesn't know the meaning of the word crisis, the man who can only say that his comments are misunderstood by one and all, the man who doesn't realise that football is rotten to the core.

Blatter himself would be well advised to engage brain before mouth before he steps in front of a microphone again. The question is: will the next time he steps in front of a microphone be his last? His time is almost up and he really should think about leaving FIFA. There won't be a shortage of people to help him pack and hold the front door of FIFA House open for him.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    Looking forward to reading more.
    Thanks Again. Will read on…