Thu | May 25, 2017

If Sepp's Satan, let's give the Devil his due

Published:Friday | June 5, 2015 | 6:00 AM

Unlike a lot of Jamaicans, I am not celebrating the fall from grace of Sepp Blatter. His detractors will tell you that he was nothing more than a dictator who used FIFA to enrich himself. There can't be any doubt whatsoever that a lot of things that happened under his watch must be viewed with scepticism, at the very least, and I would be the first to admit that I wouldn't put up Sepp Blatter as the model of integrity.

My 'acceptance' of Sepp starts with the famous Lord Acton quote: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely ... ." That line is regularly quoted, but not many will know that Lord Acton, in that very quote, had also said that "great men are almost always bad men". Where there is big money then, people will act dishonestly. I have come to expect that, so nothing that is happening at FIFA surprises me. Sepp may be a 'bad man', but are we to quick to condemn him?

Sepp wouldn't have remained as popular as he is with the football delegates from around the world if they didn't benefit from his presidency. The general secretary for football in India, Kushal Das, was quoted as saying that FIFA has invested an estimated US$8 million in India for artificial pitches academies and development programmes. Several other countries throughout Asia, Africa and CONCACAP can tell similar stories. There can be no doubt that under Sepp, the game got bigger around the world, which is precisely why more and more money started coming into FIFA's coffers.

It is estimated that about 70 per cent of FIFA's profits go back into football development in the form of financial support, development programmes and funding competitions. No one can claim that he has kept the wealth for himself. That other 30 per cent is a lot because at last check, FIFA is worth well over US$4 billion, but I am not overly perturbed.

Approximately 90 per cent of FIFA's revenue is generated through the sale of television, marketing, hospitality and licensing rights for the FIFA World Cups. Many of these initiatives were spearheaded by Sepp himself or people close to him. My theory is that if Sepp takes up office, and, through his own efforts, starts making serious money for FIFA, then I can't be too concerned if there is corruption as long as football worldwide benefits in really meaningful ways.

 

generating money

 

Were I a delegate, I wouldn't vote for the most honest man. I'd vote for the man who does the most for football. If they are one and the same person, fine; if not, give me the man who is supposedly corrupt but who generates money for all to benefit. Certainly, that's better than the honest man who doesn't generate income. How does that help anyone?

Whatever one has to say about Sepp, there can be no doubt that he has built on the work of his predecessor, Joao Havelange, to move FIFA away from its origins when it was little more than a private club for rich European nations in which those from Africa, Asia and the Americas had no say in how it was run.

Under Blatter's presidency, Africa had their first World Cup in 2010. Asia also had their first World Cup, with Japan and South Korea being joint hosts in 2002. The number of World Cup places from these continents has increased from two each to five for Africa and to four for Asia.

Football officials from outside Europe are now an integral part of FIFA's decision-making progress. Here in CONCACAF, we now have three and a half spots, with a fourth being promised, and this means that countries like Jamaica are now more likely to get to the World Cup than ever before.

So if Sepp is the devil, let us flog him, but give him his due. He has been more good than bad for world football. So what if he has personally benefited?

I wouldn't blame those who see these attacks on Blatter as part of a campaign by UEFA to return to the days when Europe controlled the game. Football in much of Europe sees the rich clubs getting richer, and one sometimes questions whether there is any genuine attempt to distribute its wealth to smaller clubs, something FIFA prides itself on.

I hope Sepp is allowed to live out his life peacefully. He has sinned and fallen short of glory, but so have we all. The fact is, he has made football a bigger sport and has been a friend to small developing countries, including Jamaica. So what if he is corrupt? That's a small price to pay for all the good he has done.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host on KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.