FIFA and the United Nations were clearly playing for team Blatter today as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association voted to keep the 79-year-old president in office despite accusations of corruption and bribery. The world of football can be forgiven for asking why, especially considering the decades of scandal that blight Joseph S. Blatter’s presidency. However, to those living on the African continent, it is clear that Blatter is a true humanitarian among the corporate world of sport.
While an American investigation discovered $150 million worth of bribery and corruption within FIFA, Swiss authorities were conducting a separate investigation into whether or not kickbacks were involved in the appointing of Qatar and Russia as the next two World Cup hosts. These investigations resulted in the arrests of seven top officials on Wednesday, May 27. Michel Platini, President of The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), called for the resignation of Blatter on May 28, in wake of these allegations. Blatter refused, defiant in his claims that he was not personally involved in any corruption, and that he was determined to correct the wrongs carried out by any of the federation’s members. Speaking in Zurich, he said, “If people want to do wrong, they will try to hide it. It must fall to me to be ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of our organisation and find a way forward to fix things.”
Since the soldiers of World War One left the trenches on Christmas day to kick a ball around with their enemies, the unifying capabilities of football, known more commonly in the U.S. as soccer, have been universally recognized. Nowhere is this more evident today than in Africa. In a continent fraught with internal conflict and political unrest, football has the ability to reach across the divide, regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation or perceptions of threat. Team Blatter has worked hard with the United Nations to use FIFA as an example of social responsibility, emphasizing the relevance of sport in education, health and conflict resolution.
Africa responded to Blatter’s role as benefactor on May 29, by supporting him in his re-election. Blatter, reportedly forced Prince Ali Bin al Hussein of the Jordan Football Association, to retract his run in the presidency race when the full extent of Blatter’s support became clear. He was hailed as a true friend of Africa by the President of the Nigerian Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick. “Blatter feels Africa, he sees Africa,” Pinnick said, “He has imparted so much, a lot of developmental programmes.” Indeed, Nigeria has seen great support from FIFA since 2003.
According to FIFA’s own statistics, they have provided three technical centres, two full-sized football pitches and a new headquarters to Nigeria, as well as numerous investments in women’s football, refereeing and grassroots football. It is not just the larger African nations who have benefited from these programmes, however, as the little known footballing country, Burkina Faso, in West Africa, has been on the receiving end of no less than 31 independent FIFA projects since 2001. These range from technical support in the fields of marketing and management to developmental projects. A perusal of FIFA’s website and developmental globe shows the full extent of their support for this keen footballing nation.
Not only has the United Nations in Africa seen great support from FIFA regarding development and education, but it’s structures have been used by the UN during some of the worst humanitarian crisis. During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, Blatter had met with officials from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation and arranged for the FIFA stadium, Monrovia’s Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Liberia, to be used as a large-scale treatment centre for those affected by the disease. FIFA then went on to donate considerable financial aid to other affected countries, in accordance with UN initiatives.
Blatter’s future with FIFA and his friendship with Africa and the United Nations may be safe for now, but as is typical in the sporting world, it does not take much to turn a game around. In a speech described by some critics as bizarre, Blatter on May 29, celebrated his re-election as the President of the institution by telling the assembled officials that he liked them. He said that he liked his job and he knews that he was not perfect. He also referred to the organization as a ‘boat’ of which he was in charge and then chanted several times ‘Let’s go FIFA!’ Clearly pleased to be captain of such a large organization for the next four years, football fans and officials alike can only sit back and see how Blatter intends to deal with the scandals of the last few months. In a statement released on May 29, by the footballing organization, Blatter welcomed the investigations from the U.S. and Switzerland and assured those concerned that he would, “work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.”
Amidst fresh claims of money laundering and larceny, the United Nations is now expected to review its relationship with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association , particularly with Blatter remaining at the healm. This does not bode well for those in Africa who have benefited since the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan sat down with Blatter in 1999 to discuss their organizations shared aims. Even with the full support of Africa and Asia, it may be time for FIFA and the United Nations to retire from Team Blatter.
By Alison Klippenstein
Fifa.com: FIFA and the United Nations hand in hand to fight Ebola
Statement by President Blatter
BBC News: Why Africa backs Sepp Blatter
UN Chronicle: FIFA and the United Nations Educating the Most Underprivileged Through Sport
Telegraph: Sepp Blatter delivers bizarre winner’s speech after winning Fifa election
Photos Courtesy of UN Geneva’s Flickr Page Photo By Jean.Marc Ferre – Creative Commons License