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Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011

PREMIER REPORT

Blatter's remark on racism utterly unacceptable


LONDON — It was not a slip of the tongue. He was not, as he claimed, misunderstood. Sepp Blatter, who sadly is still the president of FIFA, does not make such mistakes. Despite coming out with the ramblings of an idiot, Blatter is intelligent, a former lawyer who re-invented football politics.

Christopher Davies

So when Blatter said that "one who is affected" by a racist comment during a game should realize that "this is a game" and shake hands with the player who has abused him at the final whistle there could be no misunderstanding.

It is, of course, condoning racism and in the mind of any decent, respectful human being there is no place for racism in football or in life. His defence was to say how much FIFA does for Africa. That makes what he said all right then. Like shaking hands after abusing someone who, to use Blatter's words, "does not necessarily look like you."

Of course, had Blatter been a politician or head of industry he would not have been in a position to have inflicted his latest attack of foot in the mouth disease on the public. Anyone who presided over an executive committee whose members proved to be corrupt would have been ousted, but Teflon Sepp just sticks around no matter what.

He digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole but always come out for more. Blatter is the untouchable, the unsackable, the immovable but most of all the unacceptable.

FIFA is basically a one-man band, apart from North Korea the last one party dictatorship in the world. Blatter was elected unopposed for a further four years last June, winning 186 of the 207 votes. He has made friends around the world, perhaps by helping national associations via FIFA's generous GOAL programme, which helps football development in their country.

There have been some suggestions that this amounts to buying votes, but whatever charm and influence Blatter possesses it certainly works, as his continued landslide victories in the presidential elections prove.

England was almost a lone voice in protest at Blatter's "misunderstood" remark on Wednesday. Does the rest of Europe . . . the world . . . not take racism seriously? Apparently not. In eastern Europe much education is needed to make locals realize that making monkey noises at black players is not just a bit of harmless fun.

Racism will never be totally eliminated from society but football, especially at the highest level, should make a stance and operate a zero-tolerance attitude. A handshake after 90 minutes does not wipe the slate clean and undermines much of the good work put in by organisations such as Kick It Out.

By a convenient quirk of timing the Football Association announced soon after Blatter's latest own goal that Liverpool's Luis Suarez had been charged with using "abusive words with reference to ethnic origin" at Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

The Uruguayan is believed to have used the word negrito, which in Spanish is not deemed offensive. Suarez will plead not guilty and it is a complex issue involving different cultures. In Uruguay it is not uncommon to use derivatives of "negro" in a manner that is non-offensive, and if Suarez and his legal team can convince the disciplinary commission of this the Liverpool striker is likely to be given a warning at most.

At least the FA have flexed their anti-racism muscles. Blatter please note.

* * *

THERE HAVE been too many false dawns for England fans to become over-excited about the national team, but back-to-back 1-0 wins over world champions Spain and Sweden gave all but the most cynical reasons for cautious optimism.

After the underachievement of South Africa the jury remains out until the Euro finals next summer. Yet the displays by Phil Jones, Kyle Walker, Jack Rodwell, Danny Welbeck, Scott Parker and Leighton Baines showed that half the places in the squad for Poland and Ukraine are up for grabs. The old guard are looking over their shoulders as the young lions progress.

Jones has made the biggest strides despite not playing in his Manchester United position of centre-back. He has shown his versatility by excelling at right-back in Montenegro, as a ball-winner in midfield against Spain and as a deep-lying midfielder against Sweden. Parker seems to have cemented the midfield enforcer role in front of the back four, but Capello is delighted to have someone like Jones, who he compared to Franco Baresi and Fernando Hierro — "the only two players I have found in my career who can play in different positions at the top level." Praise indeed from a manager reluctant to single out individuals.

Selecting the England team to start Euro 2012 is an inevitable if futile exercise. With almost seven months to go much can happen, good and bad. Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard, certain starters, have yet to return from injury, Tom Cleverly was stamping his claim before he, too, was injured. Rio Ferdinand may show there is life in the old dog yet while John Terry's future hangs on the outcome of police investigations into allegations he made a racist comment at Queens Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand.

But after nine games unbeaten in 2011, England fans are certainly happier than they were a year ago.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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