After his overnight flight from brazil to turkey, joseph blatter must have felt like he was in a fairy tale of the hare and the hedgehog. No matter where he goes – a discussion about demonstrations and violence is already there before him.
The FIFA president cannot be blamed for leaving the host country in the midst of mass protests during the confederations cup. His trip to the opening of the U-20 world cup was long planned.
Yet this apparently caused confusion. FIFA had to deny reports on thursday that the sports ministry in brazil had not been informed about the departure before the second group matches and had been surprised about it.
In brazil, the impressions blatter left behind during the first five days of the tournament will remain for the time being: it began with a somewhat old-fashioned attempt to stand in front of president dilma rousseff when she was booed before the opening match in brasilia. "Dear friends of soccer: where is the respect and fair play, please?" he shouted into the microphone. He could still be construed as gentlemanly.
Much worse: blatter fundamentally misjudged the mass protests on brazil’s streets. "Soccer is stronger than the discontent of the people. Once the ball is rolling, people will understand, and this will stop," blatter said. Far from it. The fact that he then went on to say that the brazilians had wanted the world cup, and why they were now complaining, certainly did not make him any more popular in the sugar loaf. He expressed understanding for the protests only after brazil’s soccer stars had also shown solidarity with the demonstrators.
"As FIFA president, i think it’s important to be there when it starts," blatter said of his trip to turkey for the world governing body’s most important youth competition. The fact that he will be more concerned with the difficult political realities there than the sporting glamour does not make the trip any easier. Times seem hard for the shrewd functionary. And in difficult times, blatter, who is actually one of the most savvy power players in the soccer business, often reacted clumsily or even wrongly.
When the anxious debate about violence before the world cup in south africa reached its first peak after the murder of austrian peter burgstaller in durban in november 2007, blatter lacked any piety. There is crime all over the world, said blatter, referring – as if one crime could be weighed against another – to an attack on a 16-year-old girl in zurich.
Blatter reacts thin-skinned when his heartfelt projects are criticized, or even when he himself is criticized. At the 2006 world cup, the constant criticism of the germans made him uncomfortable. For the trophy presentation after the final in berlin’s olympiastadion, he sent the then UEFA president lennart johansson forward against all protocol. 2012 at the olympics he dared to hand over the medals in london and was booed. His reaction in a TV interview: "stars are always booed, so I’m a star. That’s how you have to take it. I thought the olympic audience would be a little more educated."
He has also often lacked political correctness. In 2004, he wanted women to play in outfits that were as erotic as possible in order to push their sport. "Let’s let women play in different outfits than men," he said. "Nowadays beautiful women play soccer." it was clear that these statements were taken as disparaging. The press officer at the time was at pains to put things into perspective. The interview was mistranslated. Six years later, blatter revealed his relationship with his media people: "i would speak a lot more, but the FIFA press office doesn’t allow that," he said in a 2010 dpa interview.
Next week, blatter returns to brazil in time for the semifinals of the world championship test run. And there is one date that gives him great pleasure. In belo horizonte, he inaugurates the next center of the FIFA social project football for hope. His words at the ceremony will certainly be followed closely in brazil.
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