By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 16, 2011) US Soccer Players — Here are some things about FIFA that we can probably agree with:
FIFA is a bureaucratic organization. FIFA creates soccer politicians. Those politicians are beholden to more than their direct electorate. Those politicians should be held to a public trust standard just like politicians in democratic countries all over the world.
We could put a few more in that mix, but I think you get the idea. For world soccer’s governing body to take the role in the world they seem to believe is theirs by default, they also have to take responsibility not just for their actions, but for their public statements.
Earlier in the week, Blatter told the world that "there is no racism" in soccer and that players should settle their on-field issues with a handshake. Oddly enough, that almost immediately turned into a substantial problem, not just for Blatter and FIFA but for the people directly impacted by racism in soccer. A problem that required a response. To wit, here’s FIFA president Sepp Blatter speaking to BBC sports editor David Bond:
"I cannot resign. Why should I When you are faced with a problem you have to face the problem. To leave would be totally unfair and not compatible with my fighting spirit, my character, my energy."
Normal politicians try that too, a flanking maneuver to stave off public pressure. As we know, there are multiple political systems that have no qualms letting a politician "face the problem" as a private citizen. Yet we also know that FIFA is different. It has no problem creating the atmosphere for soccer politicians, but with it comes no clear desire to hold them to much of a public standard. With FIFA, it remains about internal maneuvering, committees, and self corrections that rarely satisfy any broader public outcry.
That might read a bit too broadly, but considering what we’ve seen from FIFA in recent months it’s not an empty critique. Though the bureaucrats involved would argue that they would have to have a clear mandate from a special FIFA congress or committee, there’s really nothing stopping them from holding themselves to that same public politician standard. It’s a simple responsibility for the topics you choose to address and the words you use to do it.
It’s not necessary to move to subtext in dealing with Blatter’s latest public problem. He chose to express an opinion on racism in soccer that is at odds with the lived experience of minority players in the game. Though he can argue that his ‘handshake’ solution between fellow athletes leaving it on the field was immediately misconstrued, it’s difficult to hold to that in the face of those same athletes telling him and the general public he has no idea what he’s talking about.
This is Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand over a series of tweets:
to say what you said about racism in football spoke volumes of your ignorance to the subject鈥? I guess you now have the full support of all the women, gay community + people against racism in football…. If we want 2 stamp out racism in society a football pitch is a good place to start-loved by billions of people around the world
LA’s David Beckham – perhaps the most media savvy player in the contemporary game – had this to say:
"I think the comments were appalling and I think a lot of people have said that. I don’t think the comments were very good for this game. There obviously is and has been racism throughout soccer and in life over the past few years but I do think, especially being around the England team and being around the FA, who do a lot of work with kicking racism out of the game, that it is still there and it can’t just be swept under the carpet and it can’t just be sorted out with a handshake afterwards. That’s not how racism should be treated. We have to work hard to keep it out of the game and work hard to keep it out of life."
Again, this isn’t a new scenario for politicians who overstep in a public setting. Neither is the move to making this about the aggrieved individuals willingness to accept an apology. That doesn’t address the thinking and motivation of the original statement or what it reflects about FIFA at the highest level, but it’s also not the point. Blatter is making a political maneuver in the face of a public incident. As always, it’s how someone in his position moves on.
But again, imagine a head of an organization – much less a state – making similar public statements about an obvious racial problem in their company or their country. That’s why we’ve seen those directly impacted by racism in soccer calling for Blatter’s resignation and it’s why an apology and commitment to zero tolerance doesn’t mesh with what happened just days earlier. For all involved, we’ve got a new question to consider. Is there an atmosphere at FIFA that considers racism a nuisance problem that’s better policed by players on the field simply getting over it? And if so, what are we playing at here?
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.