“I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level,” said the great enlightened soul of Buenos Aires. “It’s hard work and, you know, Jews don’t like hard work.” There were calls at the time for Grondona’s resignation, calls that his mate, Sepp Blatter, waved away with a sweep of his presidential arm. Not only did the laughably self-regarding “FIFA family” rally around Grondona, Blatter continued to elevate him to higher office. These guys have given themselves diplomatic immunity. They can make racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks and FIFA doesn’t bat an eyelid; they can take backhanders and get away with it; they can commit corruption on a vast scale and they carry on regardless. Only recently has Blatter started to shine a light on the culture of corruption – out of embarrassment more than anything else – but the objectionable comments of FIFA’s made men continue without any prospect of anybody falling on a sword.
The calls for Blatter’s resignation in the wake of his wretched analysis of the racism disease within football were understandable and correct, but a little hopeful, if not futile. If Grondona can survive and prosper after his cringe-makingly offensive remarks of eight years ago then there was never any chance of Blatter walking away on Wednesday. He should have but Blatter operates in a bubble world of self-righteousness. He thinks that, because he messed up when saying that on-field racism can be solved with a simple handshake it is now his duty to stay in office to make amends, to take the fight to the bigots and defeat them. It’s his twisted logic. “I can’t resign,” he said. “I can’t.” He can, but he won’t.
Blatter might be an idiot but taking the rest of us for idiots is a bit rich. FIFA’s president was not misunderstood, as he claimed he was, he wasn’t misinterpreted, nothing was lost in translation, there was no doubting what he said, no debate. He came out with his inane thoughts once to CNN and then said pretty much the same thing to al-Jazeera soon after. For a man who has claimed to have led a lifetime battle against bigots, this was revealing, not to say grossly offensive. It showed that Blatter has either given up this so-called fight – if he ever began it, which is seriously doubtful – or else he has entered his dotage. There is a strong case to be made for the latter and no case at all to be made for Blatter to remain in office.
He will, though. Sure, the reaction to his comments has been thermonuclear. The football public is both bemused and outraged. Football managers and players and administrators and politicians are similarly staggered at the weird mechanics of Blatter’s brain. But the reaction has had one thing in common. It’s nearly all from this part of the world, nearly all British or Irish or Scottish or Welsh. Where is continental Europe on this? Where is South America? Where is Africa? Where is Asia?
This is what we’ve heard:
• Rio Ferdinand: “Astonishing.”
• Stan Collymore: “Condescending.”
• Jermaine Jenas: “Ridiculous.”
• Mick McCarthy: “Barmy.”
Where are you, Spain? Where are you, Italy? Where are you, Germany?
• Tony Pullis: “Amazed.”
• Mark Bright: “Illegal.”
• Chris Hughton: “Unacceptable.”
• David Beckham: “Appalling.”
Where are you, Brazil? Where are you, Argentina? Where are you, Uruguay?
• David Cameron: “Appalling.”
• Ed Miliband: “A disgrace.”
• Gordon Taylor: “Embarrassing.”
• Harry Redknapp: “Idiotic.”
We could go on like this all day and all night, mentioning the cast of characters who have condemned Blatter and called on him to resign, who heard the comments, then saw him defend them in various ways on Twitter and in a written statement, before finally the penny dropped two days later. Two days! It took Blatter that long to realise that he made a spectacular error and that he needed to don the sackcloth and ashes and get himself in front of a camera to say sorry.
Maybe he thought he could ride out the storm without saying another word. Maybe his PR people took a look at how his comments were being received throughout the world of football and among UEFA’s commercial sponsors and concluded that the only people getting truly angry were the uppity Brits. Rio Ferdinand et al. Given the weak – and in some cases non-existent – coverage of this story in major footballing nations around the world perhaps it’s no surprise if Blatter formed the opinion that the storm was a localised one and that it would pass. The morning after he plunged his reputation ever further down the toilet there was, for instance, fairly scant reporting of his remarks – and no commentary – in Marca and AS, the leading Spanish titles. In three others, Sport, El Pais and El Mundo Deportivo, the story wasn’t mentioned at all.
On Thursday you could have looked and looked and looked at the websites of Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport, Corriere dello Sport and Tuttosport and you wouldn’t have found anything on Blatter and racism. La Repubblica called his comments “unfortunate”.
None of FIFA’s marquee sponsors uttered anything resembling condemnation of Blatter. Few, if any, influential people from the wider world of football on the continent and beyond could be bothered getting involved. By their silence, they keep Blatter in office, they ensure that football gets the leader it deserves, an old man utterly detached from the real world, a man who has spent so many years peddling so many myths about football’s happy family that he believes that there is little wrong in the game that a handshake wouldn’t solve.
Spitting Image once did a sketch called The President’s Brain is Missing. They were lampooning Ronald Reagan. They may as well have been satirising Blatter.