By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published December 12, 2016 in the Western Mirror
With the 41-year Sepp Blatter-FIFA marriage over and the divorce finally complete, will FIFA’s operations improve under new president Gianni Infantino. Or, will it be more of the riddled, Mafia-esque and Byzantine same?
In any love affair gone wrong, there comes a time when both parties must accept the end of their relationship or marriage. Oftentimes, it is best to end things as smoothly as possible, even if the love has been long lost for some time. The longer it takes for the end, the higher the cost and damage to each other’s dignity and self-esteem, with ofttimes grave and disastrous consequences to each other’s emotional, mental and, in some instances, physical well-being.
Last week, Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter, once the most powerful man in sports and the former president of FIFA, saw his reduced six-year ban and eventual divorce from the sport of football upheld by the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).
“They thought I was going to die in the next hours. Seriously.”
– Sepp Blatter
After the verdict last week Monday, Blatter, sounding like a man resigned to his fate, said, “no other verdict could be expected. I have to accept this decision. I have experienced much in my 41 years in FIFA. I mostly learned that you can win in sport, but you can also lose”.
Indeed, he has lost, and lost it all.
Blatter’s 17-year reign as FIFA president came to an abrupt end 51 weeks ago after the FIFA ethics committee banned him after initially suspending him for a ‘disloyal payment’ of US $2 million in 2011 to the former UEFA president, Michael Platini.
His launch in FIFA 41 years ago, began as a technical director and within six years, saw him rise to the second highest position in the organization, the role of general secretary. For 17 years, Blatter shadowed then-FIFA president João Havelange of Brazil until he was able to step into the top job in 1998, becoming the eighth president of FIFA.
In the bible, eight represents a new beginning, a circumcision of the heart of some sorts. And interestingly, under Blatter, FIFA as an organization saw both a new beginning in its prosperous operations and towards the end, a circumcision of the evolved Mafia-esque operators.
In the Zodiac world, eight is a symbol of success, money, and power. These traits also highlight Blatter’s reign and ultimate demise as FIFA president. Under Blatter, FIFA emerged as the most lucrative and powerful sports organization in the world, with its prize jewel, the FIFA World Cup, being the ultimate desire of numerous kings, politicians, presidents and countries.
However, FIFA has been rocked by several scandals under Blatter’s watch and was eventually brought to its knees by the FBI with sweeping hotel raids, indictments, and convictions of its former executives starting in May of last year. From Blatter’s quest for the FIFA presidency in 1998, when he eventually defeated former UEFA president Lennart Johansson for the top job, he has been plagued with allegations of nefarious dealings and bribery. However, for years, proverbially ‘nothing was able to stick’ until the sketchy ‘disloyal payment’ allegation which was brought to the fore in October last year.
CAS in its ruling last Monday said the payment was “an undue gift”, by way of “no contractual basis”.
The former general secretary of UEFA and Michael Platini’s former right-hand man, Gianni Infantino was elected in February this year as the new boss of FIFA. Interestingly, Infantino, like Blatter is from Switzerland and both are from tiny villages, just six miles apart. However, with this new dispensation in FIFA, it seems Infantino is distancing himself from Blatter completely.
Just last week, Blatter claimed Infantino “was not paying respect to the old president” and not answering or returning his calls. Blatter recently declared, “Never, never an answer – never”.
Blatter, though forced out of FIFA, seems to be desperately grasping at any remaining strings attached to the organization. Albeit, for 41 years, the organization is all he has known.
With this final verdict from CAS, it may be time for Blatter to slip away into the sunset – quietly – if FIFA is to emerge as a new and more transparent organization under its new president, Infantino.
Ironically, last year, almost marked the death of both FIFA and Blatter, two bodies married for several years in both name and power. When signs of an impending divorce initially emerged, firstly, with Blatter suspended by the ethics committee, unsurprisingly, Blatter started to show signs of paralyzing stress and was even hospitalized for inexplicable health reasons.
As Blatter alluded recently, in a wide-ranging interview with the BBC’s World Football programme, “It was 1 November 2015. I was at the cemetery in my home village – where we have a family grave. And I was there… very, very weak, I couldn’t move. They brought me immediately to a hospital in Zurich and they thought I was going to die in the next hours. Seriously.”
For 41 years, Blatter has known nothing but football, and football has known nothing but Sepp Blatter. Nevertheless, now both will be compelled to come to grips with this much-needed divorce. As Blatter stated, “I had time enough in the hospital to think that life is [more] than only football.”
For his own sake, I hope he believes this and accepts it. On the contrary, for the well-being of the game of football, we are left to hope, wait and observe, if football and FIFA are more than Blatter and will now be free of the scandals that constantly plagued its marriage. Or, perhaps, with Infantino, FIFA will be more of the Mafia-esque, Byzantine and riddled same. Let us toss the rice grains in the air and espy how this new marriage will turn out.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning freelance sportswriter, who has read over 500 pages of court documents in relation to the FIFA indictments. However, unfortunately, he is unable to juggle a football for over 5 seconds with his feet.
Zaheer’s articles have been published by ESPN Cricinfo, Western Mirror, The Jamaica Observer, Trinidad Express, Essentially Sports and many others.
This blog article was also published in the Western Mirror on December 12, 2016.