Blatter’s unopposed election calls for term limits

The UN has 192 member states and since its inception in 1945 has had 8 Secretary Generals, the effective head of the UN. They serve 5 year terms which are renewable and most have served two terms. There is a practice of regional rotation that has ensured nomination of Secretary Generals from smaller countries. So far of the eight, 2 have been from Africa, 2 from Asia, 3 from Western Europe, and 1 from South America. The UN started with 50 member nations and has grown almost four times. To reflect this change, the all powerful UN Security Council is contemplating increasing its permanent members from the present five to fifteen and bring in more regional powers like Egypt, Brazil, and India.
FIFA came into existence in 1904 with seven members. It presently has 205 members. It too has seen 8 presidents. All have been Europeans except for Joao Havelange, from Brazil who in actuality is a displaced Belgian. Havelange was in charge of FIFA from 1974 to 1998. His protege and right hand man, Sepp Blatter took over from him after his retirement and has been assured of his third term. In 2010, between Havelange and Blatter, two men would have ruled FIFA and soccer for 36 years. Meanwhile, we call soccer the global game.
The game’s future has moved to Asia and Africa. In Japan, soccer has displaced baseball as the number one sport. It will take a few years but cricket will fade to the background as the Socceroos and the A-League continue to make inroads Down Under. The Premiership and most of the top notch European leagues enjoy an unprecedented global audience largely on the strength of their African stars. The Africa Cup of Nations is now considered one of the most competitive cups, beating out monolithic encounters between Argentina and Brazil to decide the Copa America, and every bit as contested as the Euro Cup.
Is this change reflected at the top? Two men in charge of a sport close on four decades. And not just any sport. A sport viewed by billions in the most unparalleled sporting event of the world. A sport that has the power to change the GDP of a country. Or for two countries to wage war against each other. Two men in charge of an organization that define the game, its rules, its conduct, and its vision. Such an exacting hold would be called a dictatorship by any other name. And the best part is, there is nary a coup. If only Nikolai Ceaucescu had known of this job!
The combination of Havelange and Blatter has proved destructive. Both are plutocrats, grown arrogant with perpetual incumbency, beholden to business interests, with not a whit of love for the game. Eduardo Galeano, one of the keenest observers of the game, tells this story of Havelange during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The matches were all scheduled in the blazing heat of the afternoon as it ensured the best possible viewing time for European TV. The German goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher, told the story: “I sweat. My throat is dry. The grass is like dried shit: hard, strange, hostile. The sun shines straight down on the stadium and strikes us right in the head. We cast no shadows on the ground. They say this is good for television.” Was the sale of the spectacle more important than the quality of the play? The players are there to kick not to cry, and Havelange put an end to that maddening business: “They should play and shut their traps,” he decreed.
Havelange was only doing a favour for his good friend Guillermo Canedo, Televisa’s VP and president of its international network. Televisa and FIFA owned the TV rights to the lucrative European market. Televisa also owns Mexican soccer. The Mexican Football Federation had no part to play in the World Cup other than to send a roster. This sweet deal was arranged to ensure a Canedo vote, as he was unsurprisingly, FIFA’s vice president of the Central American nations. This cynical life lesson was internalized well by Havelange minion Sepp Blatter, and in the last election, he bought the votes of Jack Warner, the powerful FIFA vice president of the Caribbean nations by ensuring that Warner’s company got the exclusive rights to TV revenues for the 2002 World Cup, reversing a previous arrangement with that of a rival group. Vote rigging ensured Sepp Blatter’s survival after the ISL scandal broke loose.
But what would you expect from a mentor like Havelange who warned:“Soccer is a commercial product and should be sold wisely.” No wonder a player like Maradona was hated by both Havelange and Blatter. Because he dared bring up the issue of labour rights for soccer players. A cold hearted Blatter dismissed this by replying, “The last star to come from Argentina was Di Stefano.” You realize how little Blatter loves this sport. In one statement he condemned not just one great player but two and a whole nation.
Sepp Blatter’s re-election is reason enough for term limits. Soccer deserves better. And there are capable men who have done yeoman work. Mohammad Bin Hammam, the AFC president whose work has pioneered Asian resurgence in soccer. Saburo Kawabuchi, the man behind Japan’s wildly successful J-League. Ohene Djan, the impresario behind Ghana’s impressive strides in African and world soccer. Soccer’s future steward should be chosen on the basis of services to soccer, not fealty to the CEO of a boot manufacturing company.

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