Not too long ago, BR World Football Editor Will Tidey gave us world football's Christmas wish list for 2011, and before any other items, he asked Santa Claus to fill our stockings with the end of Sepp Blatter's disastrous reign in charge of FIFA.
There are probably way more reasons than 10 that Blatter should step down and let someone with vision and not a complete lack of touch with the footballing world take over, but let's just stick to the big issues for now.
Four FIFA members were suspended just prior to the election this past summer following a firestorm surrounding a series of bribery scandals, primarily relating to the most recently-announced World Cup locations. What became clear in all that mess was the lack of transparency, to almost paranoid levels, which surrounds FIFA and its business dealings.
As International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound put it:
"FIFA has fallen far short of a credible demonstration that it recognizes the many problems it faces, that it has the will to solve them, that it is willing to be transparent about what it is doing and what it finds, and that its conduct in the future will be such that the public can be confident in the governance of the sport."
Pound noted the shortcomings of his own international sporting organization but mentioned that the scandal over Salt Lake City's Olympic bid launched an independent investigation and urged FIFA to consider a similar approach to solve its problems.
"Crisis? What is a crisis?"
This is the question Blatter asked after two more of FIFA's most senior officials (including a vice-president), the third and fourth in a span of six months, were banned from football due to allegations over corrupt behavior.
As FIFA was set to investigate secretary-general Jerome Valcke after Qatar accused the officer of claiming the country had bought the rights to the 2022 World Cup, Blatter maintained the organization had done nothing wrong. There was evidence that Mohammed Bin Hammam, the President of the Asian Football Federation and a key figure in the Qatar bid, had given wads of cash to the Bahamas Football Association. Bin Hammam has since been banned from FIFA and was asked to return the cash.
Throughout the quagmire, Blatter remained in power and faced his critics with a tone bordering between ignorance and disdain for anyone who dare oppose the boss-man, maintaining that only the "FIFA Family" could possibly oust him. Unfortunately, unless the larger footballing world takes action soon, that might be true.
Obviously, the people of Zimbabwe deserve to be included in the world of "the Beautiful Game" as much as anyone else, but it doesn't exactly look great when you're fraternizing with one of the world's most brutal and reviled dictators: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Blatter met with Mugabe over the summer in the midst of a match-fixing scandal plaguing Zimbabwean football, pledging $1 million to help develop the country's crumbling football infrastructure. You could make the case he meant well, but there's also the matter of Mugabe being a repressive figure who censors the media, brutally crushes his opposition, and leads a life of luxury while millions of his countrymen live in abject poverty and live without basic civil services. Not a good look, Sepp.
The media weren't allowed in the meeting between Blatter and Mugabe, further adding to Blatter's virtually spotless record when it comes to transparency.
Two major Premiership players were accused of racist behavior on the pitch within a very short time period. Galatasaray's Emmanuel Eboue was pelted with garbage by Besiktas supporters in a ghastly scene. Bulgaria fans directed monkey chants at England's Ashley Young during a Euro 2012 qualifier match. A small group of extreme-right-wing Italian national team ultras abused their own player—striker Mario Balotelli—because he is black, holding up a banner reading "No to a multi-ethnic national team."
And what does the most powerful man in football do to confront what is a very obvious and very serious problem all over the footballing world? Deny, deny, deny:
"I would deny it. There is no racism. There is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one."
And how should players involved in a row like the one between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand solve their differences?
"He should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination."
And with that, the majority of reasonable football fans all banged their heads against the wall in unison and probably used words that would not be within BR's content standards. You can't cure a sickness by pretending it doesn't exist. You cure it by detecting its source and, in some cases, using serious drastic methods to eradicate it.
So it goes with racism in football. If it's consistently ignored, it will persist or even get worse. And to suggest there isn't a problem when so many players and fans have been affected by it—Samuel Eto'o, for example, stopped bringing his kids to matches so they didn't have to hear the racist abuse their dad endured—is not only horribly out of touch, but a fierce slap in the face.
The one sort-of positive outcome of Blatter's most recent gross mishandling of the very serious issue of racism in football is that it introduced mass amounts of people the world over to the name Tokyo Sexwale. Not only was the man at the centre of Blatter's "I'm not racist; I have black friends" defense actually an inspiring political and human rights leader who helped end the ugliness of apartheid in South Africa, but that name is pretty amazing. And as (of all people) Piers Morgan pointed out, Sexwale certainly didn't end years of miserable forced segregation by "shaking hands."
In 2004, Blatter decided to give his brilliant insights on the female presence in football, which, as one might expect, sounded like they'd belong on a brochure from the Andy Gray Institute of Gender and Sport Studies:
"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts... Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men—such as playing with a lighter ball."
Seven years later, the dramatic 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup final between the United States and Japan not only received worldwide media and fan attention, but it smashed Twitter records, generating more reaction tweets per second than the royal wedding, the death of Osama bin Laden and the Super Bowl. Clearly, there are plenty of people who do care about women's football, tight shorts or no.
So, you're a gay or lesbian football fan saving up to travel to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Only there's one problem: homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Always the paragon of sensitivity and championing diversity, Blatter's suggestion to LGBTQ football fans wishing to enjoy the games with their same-sex partners in Qatar was just to oh, you know, just not do any gay stuff while at the games. He later apologized, but his words still stung.
See the gentleman in that picture? That's Koman Coulibaly, one of several referees during the 2010 World Cup who were reviled by football fans across the world for truly subpar officiating during the game's most important tournament. The tournament was followed by an increased call for goal-line technology to prevent future major bungling, a call which in 2009, amid similar calls, Blatter dismissed:
"I do not think, and the FIFA Congress are of the same view, that you can afford to stop the game, and with the camera system HawkEye showed us, there is a delay in announcing the decision and the situation can change...
The International Football Association Board is of the opinion that football will remain, for the time being, a game for human beings with errors on the field of play. We will try to improve referees but you will never erase errors completely."
And it's true, goal-line technology may not be the answer and human error cannot possibly be eradicated. But we won't know until the football world gives it a legitimate shot. And football won't give it a legitimate shot as long as Blatter and the old order of FIFA remain resistant to it.
As BR writer Yoosof Farah pointed out, the FIFA Executive Committee, or ExCo, the sole committee with the power to take disciplinary action on serious aforementioned matters such as racism and homophobia, doesn't have to answer to anyone. And as many of us were taught as school-kids, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and without a system of checks and balances in place, an imbalance of power occurs and people sometimes get seriously shafted.
Of course, there are plenty of moments of facepalm-y Blatter ridiculousness that defy categorization but are nonetheless compelling evidence that this gentleman should probably not be in charge of world football's most powerful organization. Here are a few more choice gaffes.
On the John Terry-Wayne Bridge-Vanessa Perroncel alleged love triangle:
"Listen, this is a special approach in the Anglo-Saxon countries. If this had happened in let's say Latin countries then I think he would have been applauded."
On the footballing sartorial scourge that is the snood:
"It can also be dangerous. It can be likely to hang somebody."
On Cristiano Ronaldo's transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid:
"I think in football, there's too much modern slavery, in transferring players or buying players here and there, and putting them somewhere."
This one sums it up. As long as Sepp and his ExCo cronies are in charge of FIFA, none of the reforms the footballing world wants and needs to take place will happen. The big guns will see no need for them to happen, as they don't care so long as they retain money and power and their jobs.
Football fans have been calling for Blatter's removal via social media and the like for a while now, but a more dramatic, unified effort would be more effective. Queens Park Rangers manager Neil Warnock suggested black players boycott their next international match to make a statement to Blatter, but pulling an action of that magnitude off doesn't seem realistic at this point. Either way, something needs to happen soon or we'll be stuck with the same-old-same-old for a while.