Sullying image of beautiful game

Sullying image of beautiful game

Sullying image of beautiful game

There’s that face again. Popping up among all the Green and Yellow revelry in Brazil, sitting next to President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil during the opening game of the World Cup, is the face global soccer just cannot shake: the one of Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA.

He is 78 now and has presided over four previous World Cup tournaments.

In the days leading up to this one, he lived up to his reputation for saying and doing ridiculous things, as when he publicly talked about how soccer might someday be played on other planets or when he danced on stage with a Brazilian model, like a drunk uncle at a wedding.

Happy-go-lucky while anti-World Cup protests erupted throughout Brazil, Blatter is going about his days as if the sky above soccer were a breathtaking blue — which it should be, considering the beauty and breadth of the game — instead of dark with accusations of bribery, embezzlement and match-fixing.

In what is either inexplicable or wickedly savvy, Blatter does not seem to realise, or care, that as the face of global soccer, he is also the face of corruption in his sport.

Nor does he seem to realise how the sport’s reputation suffers from his actions, and inaction.

But that’s what happens when you are a leader who sees himself more as a head of state, a ruler on a throne answering to no one.

With Blatter in charge, nearly half of FIFA executive committee members have been besmirched by accusations of ethics violations.

Though Blatter has never personally been accused of corruption, he appears to have gone out of his way to ignore that soccer is rife with shady dealings.

When Jack Warner, a former vice president of FIFA who was powerful in the sport, was accused of fraud and misappropriation of funds, did FIFA get to the bottom of it?

No. It lamely dropped its investigation after Warner resigned, saying it no longer had the authority to continue.

When Mark Pieth, who was brought in by Blatter to revamp the organisation’s poor reputation for credibility, published a detailed report on how to reform FIFA, did the organisation take the next step and take his suggestions? No, Blatter never followed through.

When investigators concluded that there was match-fixing in exhibition games before the 2010 World Cup, and that referees took money for manipulating  the games’ outcomes, did FIFA punish anyone in the wake of it? You can guess the answer.

Next up is an investigation into possible corruption in the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

If thorough, it will explain the bizarre choice to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a tiny country where temperatures touch 50 degrees during the tournament’s scheduled window.

Questionable record

That was why, with his record of questionable decision-making, it was hard not to laugh when Blatter said of FIFA: “We must carry that flame of honesty, responsibility and always of respect. If not, we will betray the spirit of this game we love.”

What was not funny was that he hinted that he might run for a fifth term as FIFA president.

Give Blatter four more years in charge, and the 2026 World Cup might be held at the South Pole.

At the same time he was currying favour with that soon-to-be-established Antarctic soccer federation, he would probably wonder why anyone would think a World Cup held in sub-zero temperatures was odd.

For now, though, how many investigations and scandals need to happen before the sport does something to kick Blatter out of the door?

He should not even be allowed to think of leading soccer into its next era - or to other planets, for that matter - when he has shown no willingness to stop the corruption in this one. If FIFA were a public company, he would have been fired years ago.

Now, though, the pressure is on. Top sponsors like Budweiser, Sony and Visa have said it is high time for FIFA to clean up its ethical messes.

The other day, several top leaders in UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, told Blatter to his face that he should not run for that presidency again. They insisted that FIFA needed a new face to lead it.

Blatter, either blindsided or merely blind, said he was deeply hurt.

“That was the most disrespectful thing I have experienced in my entire life, on the pitch and in my home,” he said. No one should feel sorry for his lack of self-awareness. It’s the sport that should get the pity.

Blatter is the one who joked that women’s soccer would be more popular if the players wore tighter shorts and the one who suggested that racism was behind the British news media’s attacks on Qatar’s World Cup bid.

Only he is the one who is letting corruption eat a wonderful sport from the inside. So it made sense that Blatter wants soccer to be played on other planets.

It seems as if he has been living on one of them.