Grant Woodward: Fifa saga reveals faultlines running through football

Fifa's decision to allow South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup broke new ground.
Fifa's decision to allow South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup broke new ground.
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THE resignation of Sepp Blatter is a disaster for football in this country – and across our continent as a whole – threatening to set the game back decades.

Not the view of anyone in England, of course, nor those fans in any of the other countries that form part of Uefa.

But it’s important to remember at a time when so many are calling for his head on a platter that Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter that it is in vast swathes of the footballing world.

Far from the scandal-soaked figure he’s portrayed as in western media, across Asia, Africa and most of the Middle East he’s the father figure who brought them to the game’s top table after years of living off the crumbs.

It’s how he’s managed to stay in charge of the sport’s global governing body for the last 17 years – by recognising that it is in fact a global game.

And it’s why, despite the lurid headlines and FBI investigation, two-thirds of Fifa delegates voted him back in last week.

What we are seeing in this unedifying, yet long overdue, spectacle isn’t just the unmasking of the alleged beneficiaries of decades of crooked dealing, but the exposure of the faultlines that run through world football.

The fact that Blatter is loved or loathed depending on which footballing nations you speak to underlines just how fractious the relationships between them are.

That, of course, makes the task of instigating wholesale changes within the Fifa all the more difficult.

It’s tricky because it’s hard to deny Blatter – despite the millions baying for his blood – actually achieved some good things.

A charmer with a ruthless streak, he has played the Fifa game masterfully for decades, largely by refusing to serve the European elite.

He loosened the grip of the traditional footballing powerhouses of this continent and South America, opening the World Cup to smaller nations who rejoiced in finding themselves on the big stage.

Whatever the means by which they achieved it – and South Africa has been the first to deny any wrongdoing – in two decades the World Cup will have visited the Far East, Africa and the Middle East, breaking new ground for the biggest sporting event on the planet.

His work to generate ever more eye watering sums from sponsorship and TV rights has meant more money for everyone, not just those at the top.

It’s why only last month, the president of the Dominican Republic’s football association compared him to Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr. and, just for good measure, Jesus Christ himself.

His re-election, meanwhile, may have been greeted with dismay over here, but at Fifa headquarters in Zurich it was marked by a standing ovation.

The palpable feeling in several corners of the globe is that Blatter was a positive force for the development of a truly world game.

It will now be up to the FBI, and possibly a grand jury, to decide if his actions were motivated by the good of the sport or for the benefit of his bank balance.

When he does eventually go – and critics will pray it’s earlier than the initial timetable of March next year – it’s likely to trigger a power battle between the rival federations.

Despite the doubts, it should be possible to grow football around the world and root out corruption – the two shouldn’t (and mustn’t) be mutually exclusive.

After more than 40 years under the rule of Blatter and his equally controversial predecessor Joao Havelange, the can of worms has been opened and it’s time for Fifa to turn a corner.

But executing the root and branch reform within an organisation so mired in alleged scandal, a place where right and wrong seem so ill-defined, might just make England’s increasingly futile quest for a second World Cup triumph seem a walk in the park.

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