Why Sepp Blatter Is Both The Most Hated And Most Loved Man In Sports
Every single day, the reputation of FIFA president Sepp Blatter unravels at the seams.
On Monday, the New York Times reported on $10 million in payments that were "central elements of the bribery scandal” that FIFA is facing, made by Jerome Valcke, FIFA's secretary general and Blatter's right-hand man.
On Tuesday, Blatter announced he would relinquish his presidency within the next year so that FIFA could undergo proper reform.
He did so, just days after intimating that resignation would be an admittance of wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, details of former FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer's guilty plea were released, revealing that bribes were accepted in relation to multiple soccer tournaments during Blatter's tenure.
On Thursday, it was revealed FIFA paid off an aggrieved Irish soccer federation after a blatant refereeing error cost them a spot at the 2010 World Cup.
The string of revelations, and the almost unbelievable reliability with which they come daily, only support the narrative that has been stirred by sports media for the past few years; FIFA is corrupt and Sepp Blatter is the single greatest villain in sports.
But therein lies one of the most fascinating parts of this whole story.
Blatter, contrary to all the coverage he receives in the US and Western Europe, is not actually a universally reviled figure.
In fact, the FIFA scandal has been so much less about a World vs. FIFA narrative and so much more about the massive disconnect between the colonial nations and the rest of the world.
So, no, the soccer-loving world doesn't agree with everything we think about Blatter, nor do they love us for setting them free from some evil tyrant.
As Blatter's (now insignificant) re-election last Friday proved, most of the world is actually on Blatter's side.
There are reasons for that, beyond the generally shallow, and borderline insulting, explanation that we frequently receive here in the US (that Blatter keeps money flowing to heads of smaller soccer federations).
Take Asia, for instance. Their allegiance to Blatter is simple to understand.
John Duerden wrote in The Guardian,
ESPN FC African correspondent Colin Udoh wrote in a similar vein on his personal blog, where he discussed why Africa gives Blatter his backing.
As Udoh states, it is less about money and more about making the game of soccer more inclusive and truly global. He writes:
In fact, the difference between Sepp Blatter's FIFA and the FIFA of old, in respect to democratizing the sport, is incredible.
1966 World Cup was boycotted by African nations. The tournament had never even been hosted outside Europe and the Americas until 2002, Blatter's first World Cup.
Instead of a man who supported an apartheid regime, like former FIFA president Stanley Rous did in the 60s, there's Sepp, who distributes World Cup TV revenue equally among all 209 member nations.
For those who have that favorable image of Blatter, you might understand why accusations of bribe can seem inconsequential compared to other charitable works the developed and already-wealthy world doesn't see.
In Somalia, the federal government thanks Blatter for "keeping football alive" with aid amid a civil war.
And as Udoh writes,
Blatter has his faults, for which he will likely (and deservedly) pay for soon.
But the fact that he has genuinely done a lot of work in the interest of generously growing the game will always make him a polarizing figure.
And while "growing the game" might be seen as the least one should expect from FIFA, it's much more than a consideration that less well-off nations have come to expect from mostly-white-led organization.
The end of Udoh's blog makes that clear.
That is what makes Blatter one of the most hated or most loved men in sports, depending on who you ask.