The current Fifa President Sepp Blatter is a controversial figure at the best of times, but last month made possibly his biggest error of judgement when he claimed that there was ‘no racism in football’.
This view did nothing to endear him to the public or the government, with the latter backing a move to sack him. And his timing couldn’t have been worse asLiverpoolstar Luis Suarez was charged with racist abuse against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra on the same day.
Some hasty backtracking from Blatter later produced the following statement: “I would like to make it very clear; I am committed to the fight against racism and any type of discrimination in football and in society.
“I have been personally leading this battle against racism in football, which Fifa has been fighting through campaigns such as Say No to Racism.”
He added: “My comments have been misunderstood. What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have battles with your opponents and sometimes things are done which are wrong.
“But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.”
Which to the casual observer (or a cynical journalist) seems to mean: ‘I stand by what I said but now I have to be seen to offer some sort of explanation/justification’, no matter how weak.
Yet Sepp remains Fifa president, at least for the time being.
Blatter is notorious for offending people through his seemingly ignorant comments, from suggesting female footballers wear tighter shorts to increase the profile of the game to telling gay supporters who will be traveling to the 2020 World Cup in Quatar where homosexuality is illegal to simply “refrain from sexual activity”.
But to state that there is no racism in football is reckless and callous, and to do so while Luis Suarez, and John Terry, stars of the game at high profile clubs, are being investigated for the very thing that ‘doesn’t exist’ should have made his position untenable.
In my previous incarnation as a sports journalist I was involved with the ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ and ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ campaigns for a number of years and find the President of Fifa dismissing what continues to be a real battle against discrimination rather offensive.
One of the main messages of these campaigns is education but it seems that perhaps more work needs to be done to educate those at the top of the industry.
I’m due to go on a tour around the Fifa headquarters in Zurich, on Friday, as part of a tournament with Middlesbrough Futsal Club. My mum suggested we all wear ‘Show racism the Red Card’ t-shirts in case Sepp is hanging around his office, but I doubt he would get the message.