Bye bye Blatter - but Brits can't be smug

EDITOR'S BLOG: The FIFA boss's departure was long overdue, but Britain's minimal role in it offers a warning to our leaders that they probably won't heed.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 08 Oct 2015

So, farewell then Sepp Blatter. Or is it auf wiedersehen? His daughter Corrine is fighting a spirited rearguard action this morning as the wolves of the FBI and the DA’s office surround the FIFA gravy wagon, waiting to go in for the kill. He thinks it’s all over and it probably is. Jah, sicher. Hardly an early bath for the old boy but a long overdue spray down with DDT in the showers. If they choose to do so the Feds - most of whom will regard soccer as a game for seven year old girls - may even get a shot of him in cuffs. Probably not an orange jumpsuit, however.  

Last night, amid the euphoria, some wiseguy put a scene from The Untouchables up on Twitter. The one where De Niro as Capone gets the heads of the families round for supper, gives a speech about togetherness and then whacks one miscreant round the head with a baseball bat.

While I have nothing but admiration for the dogged reporting of Andrew Jennings who has been badgering away at this story for years we need to watch it doesn’t turn into a UK smugfest.

For what it’s worth I think it’s highly unlikely that Qatar or Russia will be stripped of the World Cup. Just think how it would look if, after the alleged deaths of hundreds of migrant workers building stadiums in Doha, they were to stand empty and un-used forever in the fifty degree heat. And Putin isn’t going to let go of his opportunity to big it up in the summer of 2018 in a Russia strip without a massive fight. Greg Dyke should watch out what he drinks, buy himself a Polonium testing kit and avoid visits to Itsu.

So, we should watch it on the triumphalist front.  

Firstly, we kid ourselves if we think the ‘beautiful game’ is in fine, unblemished fettle here in the UK. It’s not money that has ruined football but football that has ruined money, as Telegraph cartoonist Matt notes this morning.

Money can wreck things in ways that are not old-fashioned corruption. The Premier League is an uncontrollable monster that has the power to bring down not just Sky, but even BT if those those companies aren’t careful. It is owned and run via the club owners by some very questionable individuals. Costs remain out of control and it feels like a series of circuses during the last days of Rome.  

Our grassroots game is third rate. Our national team - because we import so much foreign talent - is a bunch of also-rans that will have endured 50 years of hurt next year and is likely to have to tolerate a few decades more.  

Secondly, we must be very careful that sorting FIFA out does not make the developing world members - the vast majority of whom regarded Blatter as a beneficent deity - completely pissed off when they perceive what happens next as a First World takeover. David Ginola is a great looking guy, once a halfway decent player, but he won’t speak easily to kids in Kingston or Lagos.  The bad guys of FIFA may have had their hands in the til but there are many who regard the organisation and its ability to distribute cash and jobs to poor people  like a sporting Oxfam.

Thirdly, and I need to be careful here, we need to watch out for our high moral tone on the international stage. FIFA is a grim, weeping sore that needs attention and we have played a part in the beginning of the cure. I don’t know if it was Mrs Thatcher that taught us this trait but standing on the rooftop and hectoring foreigners about their behaviour and their institutions does not work. It hasn’t got us anywhere in Europe where we are regarded as a semi-detached pain in the neck, the mad, Asbo-laden family next door.

Put Blatter through due process, certainly. But don’t lecture poor countries about their poor ranking on Transparency International's league table. Corruption hurts the poor the most. It’s a bunch of greedy old men who have grabbed hold of football in Africa and the Caribbean and filled their boots as a result. Not kids playing in the street.  

Finally, we might also remember that France voted for Blatter last Friday. And I am not, for one moment, advocating we shed our principles and adopt that Gallic moral looseness and equivocation that has served them so well over the years. But sometimes diplomacy needs to be quiet, sensitive and thoughtful. Getting HRH Prince William to pronounce about FIFA was a very bad idea indeed. Let the Feds get on with the dirty work of producing the Perp Walks while we get back to jumpers for goalposts in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

It’s much easier for our great leaders to play to the domestic Daily Mail audience, harking back to past centuries when Britain bestrode the globe and actually scored some goals, than it is to grapple with the complexities of carving out a new role for ourselves in the 21st.

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