The remarks in television interviews that racist abuse on the field should be settled by a handshake led to a Twitter war of words between Blatter and England defender Rio Ferdinand today.
Meanwhile, influential people in British sport including sports minister Hugh Robertson and players’ chief Gordon Taylor called for Blatter to step down The furore has been heightened by the fact there are two high-profile current cases in England involving alleged racism on the pitch.
Chelsea’s John Terry is being investigated by the Football Association and the police after allegations he racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, Rio’s brother, and the FA yesterday charged Liverpool’s Luis Suarez with racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
Outside of Britain however, the controversy has barely caused a ripple – it merited a single paragraph in French sports daily L’Equipe, and was treated similarly in Spain, Italy, Germany and the United States.
According to a number of people with experience of Fifa politics, Blatter is now inured to having a rough ride in Britain after the FA opposed his election in June, and following the furore over the ban on poppies on England and Wales shirts last week.
One Fifa member said: “This is of course a big issue in England where there are high-profile racism cases going on, but the rest of Europe has not shown any interest and Blatter can just brush it off.”
Blatter will have been ill-advised however to have become embroiled with an angry reply to Ferdinand on Twitter. The Manchester United defender criticised Fifa’s attempts to clarify Blatter’s comments with a statement on their website underneath a large picture of Blatter with South African minister Tokyo Sexwale, who was imprisoned on Robben Island during the apartheid era.
Ferdinand wrote: “Fifa clear up the blatter comments with a pic of him posing with a black man..I need the hand covering eyes symbol!!”
Blatter was stung into a response yesterday and replied directly to Ferdinand saying: “The ‘black man’ as you call him has a name: Tokyo Sexwale. He has done tremendous work against racism and apartheid in Africa.
“We have done several joint activities to raise awareness on the struggle against racism in South Africa. Fifa has a long-standing and proud record in the area of anti-discrimination which will continue.”
Ferdinand responded himself to Blatter this afternoon saying: “To say what you said about racism in football spoke volumes of your ignorance to the subject.
“If we want to stamp out racism in society a football pitch is a good place to start – loved by billions of people around the world.”
Robertson said Blatter should step down for the good of football.
The minister added: “Sepp Blatter’s comments are completely unacceptable. This is the latest episode that calls into question whether this man should be the head of world football.
“For the sake of the game, he should go.”
Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Taylor said the racism remarks were “the straw which broke the camel’s back” and that Blatter should step aside for UEFA president Michel Platini.
The international players’ union FIFPro described Blatter’s comments as “rather clumsy” and added: There are things that you cannot just solve by shaking hands after the end of the match, as Mr Blatter suggests.”