December 6, 2016
A guest contribution by Rainer Kalb.
That’s all, folks! The next time we hear about Mr Joseph S. Blatter, it will be its obituaries. As the CAS confirmed yesterday, there will be, unlike what happened to Michel Platini, no reduction of his suspension. Even among football functionaries, a six-year ban for an over 80-year old means a life sentence.
What did Mr Blatter achieve? He changed the rules of world football when as a paid employee of FIFA he challenged in 1998 the Swedish volunteer Lennart Johansson. The then DFB president Egidius Braun fumed with indignation: ‘Never a salaried employee shall run against a honorary official!’ But so he did, and he steadfastly remained silent about the exact amount of the ‘indemnities’ he perceived for the honorary position as FIFA president once it was his.
Difficult to believe he would know nothing at all about the bribes and kickbacks during his numerous terms in office. All the more so as they had started during his time a general secretary under president Havelange. And what kind of president would Blatter have been if had not known what happened within his harmonious ‘football family’? Perhaps he should have renamed his function from ‘FIFA President’ to ‘FIFA Godfather’, in order to better describe the relationship he had with many.
And yet, it must be recognized that Blatter actually did do some things ‘for the good of the game’. Not so much for its administration and governance, but for the game itself. His greatest achievement was perhaps to force the adoption of the rule according to which a player is no longer offside ‘if level-with the second-to-last defender’, as well as the (admittedly delicate) definition of ‘passive offside’. Both measures were in favour of attacking football and good for the game’s attractiveness.
Along the same line, and also introduced under his leadership as general secretary, was the ‘back-pass rule’ and the simple but efficient instruction to home teams to provide dozens of extra balls in order to prevent the temptation to gain several precious minutes of time by kicking the ball into the stands.
Oh, he was a smart guy, our Joseph S. Blatter, who had the perfectly redundant middle name ‘Sepp’ – which is nothing but a nickname for Joseph anyway – officially registered, because he had always like the ‘F.’ of President Kennedy and perceived it as a key differentiator for really important people. But when he started to find himself for more powerful than the Pope – quite logically, as there were ‘more footballers on the planet than Catholics’ – some of us started to have whether our Swiss friend was not somewhat disconnected from reality. Or struck by acute megalomania.
I can testify that at the time when Blatter was still general secretary and loved to play the Master of Ceremony at drawings for international tournaments of qualifiers, he was jovial, entertaining, often funny. When he had become president, these same qualities metamorphosed into lying, cheating, and hypocrisy. The life sentence is a good thing. It’s never too late to bring someone back to reason.