Gloves Off

Why India is thankful that Sepp Blatter was re-elected FIFA president

The Rs 8 crore that AIFF will get from the global body will help it send teams to the Asian Games without government support.

 |  Gloves Off  |  4-minute read |   31-05-2015
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The way FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s name got kicked about in the last few weeks wasn’t amusing. As one who has been at the helm of global football from his headquarters in Zurich since 1998, Blatter is a very popular man. The reason for his popularity has changed in recent times, thanks to the word corruption, but let’s be sure, nobody can dislodge the 79-year-old for another four years.

Armchair critics have compared Blatter and N Srinivasan on their survival strategies, but Blatter is far too seasoned and powerful, with his growing support base in Asia and Africa standing him in good stead.

It’s been an interesting week — two days before the FIFA meeting in Zurich, the $150 million corruption scandal broke out. Arrests were made and it had Blatter worried, but beyond that, there was no damage.

Viewed purely from the prism of votes won and who his challenger was, Blatter’s 133 votes versus Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein’s 73 votes was a reflection of how the voting pattern changed. Had the lead-up to the election been incident-free, the general feeling is that Blatter would have garnered seven more votes for a two-third majority.

It’s strange how sitting in India, people followed the scandal and election so closely. This is not like elections for the International Cricket Council (ICC) or some Olympic sporting body.

Perhaps, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the FIFA is the most prestigious global sporting body with a $1.5 billion reserve to show in its balance sheet.

In recent years, the way FIFA has looked at the global football community is indeed interesting. This is a sport where the Europeans have the talent and money to show off and they obviously do not like Asian and African nations getting so much attention.

The Western world does not like its monopoly being challenged as it means more World Cup slots to be shared with Asian and African nations.

At the same time, the biggest reason why Europe is crying hoarse over Blatter is that England’s bid to host the World Cup has not found favour again. The same goes for the US, which last hosted the mega event in 1994.

Europe’s fight against Blatter is not going to end and corruption is just one part of it. FIFA did not become corrupt overnight or since the time Blatter came to power. As is the case with most rich bodies, corruption seeps in and Blatter has now promised to deal with the mess.

For a body which deals in multi-billion dollar sponsorship deals with shoe companies, soft drink producers and so on, there is this risk of being labelled corrupt. Blatter doesn’t seem too old to travel and assuage the feelings of hurt people.

Brian Glanville, one of the finest football writers, has talked of corruption being so rampant in football that brown cash packets were been doled out to "big hands" in relatively poorer countries some years ago.

Corruption won’t end overnight in FIFA, nor will getting rid of Blatter be the solution. It’s not about one man’s greed but how there are many in the system who have been involved in scandals. From an Asian and African point of view, Blatter is seen as the man who has blessed them. South Africa hosting the World Cup in 2010 and Qatar set to host the mega event in 2022 would have been unimaginable had Blatter not been at the helm.

European nations hate all these decisions as, left to them, the World Cup would have been held only in Europe or South America. No one doubts the legacy and tradition of football in Europe and how it makes billionaires out of superstars. Their leagues rock and, even in India, the following for it is mind-boggling. But then, if you are talking of leagues in Japan and Singapore, they are also growing.

I was not surprised when All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel said openly a day before the elections that he was going to support Blatter. The Swiss man got India the under-17 World Cup and even the AIFF building in Dwarka has come up courtesy FIFA funds.

For those not familiar with AIFF’s financials, India is set to get Rs 8 crore from FIFA as its share of 2014 World Cup profits. The entire amount has not come in, but this surely is the reason why the AIFF can think of sending teams to the Asian Games without government support.

Last but not the least, India has got ten artificial football turfs from FIFA. This is why I would back Blatter, who has been with FIFA for more than 40 years, rather than be impressed with the rhetoric Michel Platini or Diego Maradona are indulging in!


S Kannan S Kannan @kannandelhi

Sports columnist.

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