Football Unite

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 1st 2015)

Segun at Wembley

My Only New Year Resolution

Welcome to 2015 and a happy New Year to all the readers of this column. The legendary soul singer, the late great Sam Cooke said it best: ʻA Change is Gonna Comeʼ. Actually a change has gotta come. As the world enters into 2015, I have set for myself one goal, a resolution of some sort – to join forces with whoever loves the game of football to stop Sepp Blatter from returning as President of FIFA when the next elections hold this year.

I just do not understand it. The sit-down syndrome in any organised setting is anathema to good governance, and is denounced globally for its penchant to turn even good leaders into power-drunk dictators. The history of the world is littered with the story of several of such political leaders. Their end usually is a sad story of abuse of power, corruption, internal strife and conflicts, controversy and the death of true democratic principles.

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Sepp Blatter must be stopped now

As the race for the Presidency of FIFA begins the worst news to come out of Zurich is that Mr Blatter has not only indicated he would be running again but that no one within the Executive Committee is actually challenging him despite the mountains of scandals and controversies that hang around the neck of the organization and now threaten the integrity of the greatest game in the world.

I do not intend to go into the details of the ugly scandals and charges that have rocked FIFA since Blatter became its President in 1998, and that have claimed several high profile victims within the football family through the years (Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hamman, Lennart Johansson, Farro Ado1, and so on). He has even claimed to be incorruptible.

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The mere fact that Blatter promised that he would not be standing for the Prseidency again after the 2011 elections makes his recent announcement very annoying. He is making a mockery of the rest of the world. The man’s word cannot be trusted. It is just ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing’.

The Old Guard

Sepp Blatter started his career in FIFA in 1975. That means that he has been part of the organization for 40 years. He has spent the last 16 as its President. By next year he will be 80 years old.

In a period in history when the world is preparing to send young men to the red planet, and planes that will cross the Atlantic in one hour are being designed, what is the new innovation this old-fashioned and old man is bringing to the world’s greatest sport?

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What did Blatter forget to do in the past 40 years that he has been part of the organization that he now wants to introduce at the twilight of his life? What is he afraid of in a new leadership? Or better still, what is he hiding from the world that he thinks will remain hidden forever? His predecessor – almost 100 years old – João Havelange was no stranger to accusations of corruption. He ran FIFA as his fiefdom. He was forced to resign his role as FIFAʼs Honorary President in 2013 because he had accepted bribes between 1992-2000 totalling £1m. Blatter was his protege.

Disheartening

Only Jérôme Champagne, a former General Secretary of FIFA, has summoned the courage to do what is obviously desirable and needed now for the advancement of world football – enter the race. Perhaps he can end the Sepp Blatter reign and usher in something new – something refreshing to take football to the next level.

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It is truly disheartening, shocking and disappointing that despite the numerous monumental scandals that have rocked the world body through the years, and the baggage of charges that Blatter has had to carry and parry with impunity, which presently and menacingly threaten the integrity of the game of football, the man still has the guts to eat his own words and announce to the world that he would be contesting the Presidency again.

The great tragedy is not that he wants to run, but that he might win again, whilst the rest of the world is watching and keeping silent. But how can this be?

What hold does Mr Blatter have over the other members of the Executive Committee of FIFA that makes them cower in the face of his arrogance? Recall how bin Hamman withdrew from the race in 2011 and was subsequently banned from football for life twice. Recall how Issa Hayatou, threatened by the IOC for allegations of corruption, bowed to pressure and withdrew also.

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History Repeats

In the 2011 elections Mr. Blatter was returned unopposed as President because there was no ‘clean’ person within the organization to challenge him. The same scenario appears to be is playing out again in 2015.

For example, why did Michel Platini, tipped by many after 2011 to be his likely successor, withdraw his candidacy from the race as soon as Blatter indicated interest to return? It is really shameful and unacceptable that the man under whose watch some of the most atrocious corruption charges have been levied remains uninvestigated and untouchable atop the organization.

Even the most recent controversy about the bribery allegations surrounding the 2022 World Cup and the Garcia report that was mangled to protect some interests within the organisation, are being swept under the carpet.

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Power Corrupts

Blatter has become too powerful for comfort. Until and unless he leaves FIFA and its activities will continue to remain shrouded in the murk of scandals. It is amazing that with the developments following Garcia’s report, protest and resignation, the FIFA President did not step aside to allow for an independent inquiry to protect the integrity of football and of FIFA.

Instead, he is contemptuously going ahead with his plans to perpetuate himself in power. Guilty of all these charges or not, Sepp Blatter has had his time, served football well but must now go. If he does not do so voluntarily and with dignity, he should be stopped by all means and all costs from contesting the 2015 elections, period. The world has had enough of the shenanigans.

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Meanwhile, the bad news is that he has kick-started his campaign. His foot soldiers are already knocking on the doors of the most vulnerable of his supporters, the impoverished army of African football federation presidents. They are, as usual, being tempted with offers of membership of committees and subcommittees to vote for him.

Africa Unite

Blatter helped bring the World Cup to Africa. For that he has our respect, but the love affair has turned sour. Despite his extreme age and that he was clearly ailing the continent’s greatest hero, Nelson Mandela was pressured to attend football events for Africaʼs World Cup. Following Madibaʼs passing Blatter delivered the final insult.

Let me remind Africa that this is the man that disrespected Mandela. One day after Mandela died in December 2013, during a FIFA event for the 2014 World Cup, Blatter rudely interrupted a one-minute silence called for Mandela after only 11 seconds. It was preposterous. So infuriated were some people that they vowed to do everything to stop him from returning as FIFA President should he dare to run again in 2015.

That time has come. All of Africa must rise up now and say no to Blatter. Since Sepp Blatter, has the audacity to seek to perpetuate himself in office, we the people also have the temerity to say no to another 4 years of his dictatorship. That’s precisely why Blatter must be stopped, now.

1 Ado was the Vice-President of the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) and President of the Somali Football Association at the time. He claimed that he had been offered $100,000 to vote for Blatter and that others had queued up to take their money.

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