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500 Days

Posted By Brian Phillips On January 26, 2009 @ 7:16 pm In Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We’re 500 days from the start of the 2010 World Cup. Sepp Blatter has chosen to celebrate by giving an interview which I think might actually break his personal record for sloganeering vapidity. Here’s my favorite moment (note that this is by far the hardest question the FIFA.com reporter threw at him):

Do you think that the global economic crisis will have an impact on the preparations for the FIFA World Cup?
No, it will not have an impact because the FIFA World Cup will take place. The budgets have been composed, given and ratified. Naturally, we might not have the same return of investment as we had at the last World Cup in 2006, but the world was a different place then. For FIFA, it’s not important to get money out of Africa, but it’s important to us that the Africans enjoy organising their own World Cup – and they will do. A lot of big footballers such as Pele, [Michel] Platini, [Johan] Cruijff and [Franz] Beckenbauer say that primarily football is a game – and secondly a business. For FIFA it is not a business – it is the game of association football.

So the global economic crisis will not have an effect on the World Cup. Why? Because the World Cup “will take place.” Furthermore, football is more than a business. It’s also a game. But don’t take Sepp Blatter’s word for it. A lot of big footballers think so.

Here’s a more representative question.

What legacy does FIFA want to leave in Africa?
There will be a double legacy. There will be the one in South Africa. Through the competition, there will be extremely tight security, just as there is at the Olympic Games and other huge sporting events. We hope that this security will be maintained after the World Cup in order to ensure that we have left a legacy. The other legacy is for the whole of Africa. We want them to be proud and be able to say: ‘We Africans have organised the world’s most important sporting event: the FIFA World Cup.’

So…the legacy for South Africa is going to be improved stadium security? What? Is he really suggesting that the World Cup security plan—which will essentially involve deploying a sizable military force in areas frequented by tourists—is going to have long-lasting ramifications for the safety of the country? Or is there some outside chance that he just wanted to send a reassuring message to potential tourists and this was the best way he could think to crowbar it into the conversation?

Let’s jump ahead to the conclusion of the interview: the dreaded “talk about anything you want” question.  A classic of hard-hitting reportage. Little-known fact: Woodward and Bernstein got Nixon with this one.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yes. We have to trust in the Africans’ ability to organise the competition. Trust will give them confidence. If they have confidence, they will be better in the future, not only as footballers, but as organisers. This is my personal wish as the President of FIFA.

Sepp Blatter’s personal wish is that the trust he has in Africans will give those Africans the confidence they need to be better tournament-organizers than they currently are, right now, at the moment he’s trusting in them. Because clearly, any potential problems the South Africa World Cup might run into will be the result of low self-esteem. It’s such a tragedy when a poor self-image causes someone to commit massive repeated contracts fraud.  I just hope Sepp Blatter’s unwavering trust will give people the confidence to stop performing political assassinations. Because really, football is more than just a game. And that would be the greatest gift of all.

Look, I’m excited about the World Cup. I’ve been covering it pretty harshly lately, and I plan to go on doing so where it’s warranted, but when the football starts I’m going to watch it as eagerly as anyone. And I do hope it goes well (as I expect it to), for South Africa’s sake and because, selfishly, I want an unproblematically amazing tournament to watch.

But there’s a limit to how patronizing and clueless and cluelessly patronizing anyone issuing public remarks should be, and lately Sepp Blatter is treating it like a starting line. Why not show some respect for Africa by talking about what’s actually happening there? What is anyone gaining from this fantasy about a childlike people who only need your trust?


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