Blatter's tentacles are truly global
For better or worse, Fifa's control of the game is near absolute so, for now at least, we might as well just sit back and enjoy the ride
Any day now Fifa boss Sepp Blatter will issue his own white paper declaring his "comprehensive jurisdiction" over world football. It will be similar in tone and intent to the white paper Beijing issued this week asserting their control over Hong Kong, and the Chinese leaders will probably nod to Blatter and say, you're welcome, Sepp.
Everything will be peachy because Blatter has friends in Beijing; in fact, he has cronies all over Asia as well as Africa, the Gulf and Russia. And this really bothers the powers that be in Europe. This man is the cockroach they can't kill, although it's not for lack of trying. When Blatter went back on his word and said he would once again seek election to head Fifa, France's Uefa chief, Michel Platini, said he could no longer support the man. It was a sentiment quickly echoed throughout European football and a number of media channels.
But none of that matters to Blatter, who will probably win again. By the time the controversial World Cup of 2022 is played in Qatar, Sepp will be 86.
Even if he is dead by then, you get the feeling he will still be running things from his grave. That's who he is and I am not here today to demonise the guy because there is no shortage of that. Besides, you can't shame the shameless so why bother.
With a month of festive footy kicking off in Brazil, I think it is far more fun to see where soccer has been, where it is now and where it is going. If you do that, you might even see why Europe is so annoyed. There can be no debate that the World Cup is now the premier sporting event on the face of the earth. It garners more eyeballs globally than any other gathering, sporting or otherwise, including the summer Olympics.
Really the last domino to fall in soccer's battle for global supremacy was the US market. As recently as 1978 there was no live English broadcast of the World Cup in the US. By 1994 they hosted the event and last month Fox secured the American broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for US$450 million. Of course, the game has long flourished without the US market. But if you want to call yourself the biggest event in the world you need the biggest economy in the world. It's that simple and thanks to the progress of the national team - the US have qualified for the past seven World Cups - interest has grown exponentially. It also helps that the World Cup has now become truly global.
From its inception in 1930 until 1998, nine of the 16 tournaments were held in Europe with South and North America rounding out the field. Of the next six, only one will have been held in Western Europe. Particularly galling for Europe was the awarding of the 2018 event to Russia and 2022 to Qatar. Two joint bids, one from Belgium and the Netherlands and the other Portugal and Spain, as well as England were all beaten out by Russia, and they were not happy.
In fact. it has been bandied about in many European quarters that Russian oil money won 2018, while Arab oil money carried the 2022 bid. And while it does sound like sour grapes, there is no question they are right. It's also kind of ironic that Russian oil money delivered a trio of English championships to long-suffering Chelsea fans, while Arab oil money is responsible for Manchester City winning two of the past three titles and that seems to be business as usual. But when that same money rears its corruptive head on a global stage it's an outrage.
This, more than anything, is where Blatter matters. The places he has taken the game - Asia, Africa, the Gulf and Russia - are all locales where corruption is endemic and a way of life. He has consolidated his support by empowering the previously disenfranchised and while there is no shortage of corruption in Europe, it is by comparison far more transparent thanks to bodies like the European Union.
There is also a sense of entitlement in Europe that seems to have resulted in economic stagnation. Corruption in the developing world, entitlement in the developed sectors; that's where the world is and now, for better or worse, it's where the World Cup is as well. Some claim it diminishes their joy for this year's event and while I am hardly pleased with the way Fifa does business, it is what it is. For the next month at least, all I can say is play on.