Quote of the Day

Righto, Sepp!

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, after running unopposed and winning a fourth term in yesterday’s election, which followed months of devastating allegations of corruption:

“We will put FIFA’s ship back onto the right course in clear, transparent waters. We will need some time, but we shall do it.”

Aye aye, cap’n.

Foxes Investigate FIFA Henhouse; Blatter Cleared, Bin Hammam and Warner Suspended

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was cleared of wrongdoing by an ethics panel Sunday, paving the way for him to run unopposed for a fourth term in Wednesday’s election.

Executive committee members Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar were both suspended indefinitely in the wake of accusations that they offered $40,000 apiece to roughly 24 federation officials from the Caribbean in exchange for their votes for bin Hammam as FIFA president.

(Bin Hammam withdrew from the election before the panel convened, and he accused Blatter of knowing about and not opposing the alleged payments, hence Blatter’s appearance before the panel.)

Neither bin Hammam nor Warner was found guilty in the investigation, but both are suspended from any involvement with soccer until a full judicial inquiry can be staged.

Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, who oversaw the inquiry, said that the suspensions were necessary to “ensure that the investigation [pending; likely in July] is not compromised.”

No word on whether this statement was met by snickers, but plenty of comments at Blatter’s Monday press conference in Zurich were. A quick sampler, courtesy of The New York Times:

“I am the president of FIFA; you cannot question me.”

(Actual quote. No, really.)

“I believe that the decision which we took for World Cup 2022 was done exactly clean in the same pattern and again I say what I said at beginning of press conference there is no issue for the World Cup 2022.”

(This one prompted such a reaction from the assembled media that Blatter followed it up with: “We are not in a bazaar here, we are in FIFA House.”)

“Something has changed in FIFA and we will try to change more in future. I cannot change members of my government, it is not up to me.”

Blatter pleaded for respect over the reporter grumblings that followed that one, then abruptly pulled the plug on the press conference, walking offstage as journalists tried to lob more questions his way.

Good times.

Other Juicy Bits From the Fallout

• “Why should I be hanged now, and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer? His American lawyer, John Collins? Give me a break, guys. I will hold my head high to the very end. I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing.”

—ExCo member and CONCACAF president Jack Warner, speaking in the Trinidad Parliament on the eve of the ethics panel.

Merriam Webster has announced they will replace their current definition of the word chutzpah with the above.

Also, apparently, the word “American” is an insult in Trinidad and Tobago.

• There were two cases before the panel on Sunday. One involved bribery surrounding Wednesday’s FIFA presidential election, the other concerned vote-selling for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

In the latter, two FIFA ExCo members were suspended and four were cleared, due to insufficient evidence.

Among the cleared, our favorite was Nicolás Léoz of Paraguay, who (allegedly) requested both an honorary knighthood and that the FA Cup be named after him in exchange for voting for England’s 2018 bid.

That is just fantastic, and we applaud the imagination involved.

But there are some logistical issues. How, for example, would both honors be explained? Oh, yeah, this Paraguayan bureaucrat has been integral to English football and culture since way, way back in the day. We need to get that guy knighted, or at the very least, rename our 140-year-old domestic competition in his honor—stat. The British people will instantly recognize both honors as long overdue.

Finally, there was the following sensational statement from Blatter in his column on Inside World Football:

“When a Swiss farmer’s neighbor has a cow while he has none, the less fortunate farmer will work twice as hard so that one day he can buy a cow as well. When another farmer, elsewhere, on an island, say, has no cow but his neighbor does, that farmer will kill the neighbor’s cow out of sheer malice.

“I’d rather be a Swiss farmer, like it or not.”

On an island, say, ….”  Sepp—very subtle. Jack Warner lives on an island, doesn’t he?

Well, the island farmer was talking tough after Sunday’s hearing, promising that a “tsunami” of bad news would be visited upon FIFA in the coming weeks.

In any event, it’s on to Wednesday’s “election,” over the objection of British sports minister Hugh Robertson, who, according to the Times, has called on FIFA to suspend the vote, saying, “I think the process is fast descending into farce.”

Only In FIFA: Presidential Candidate To Face Ethics Investigation Just Three Days Before Presidential Election

In light of allegations made yesterday by FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer (left, apparently relaxing in Margaritaville), soccer’s world governing body has called presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam and Vice President Jack Warner to appear before its ethics panel on Sunday.

The FIFA presidential election, between Bin Hammam and incumbent Sepp Blatter, is scheduled for next Wednesday in Zurich.

Bin Hammam and Warner will face allegations of bribery linked to the June 1 election. The fact that the allegations come from Blazer—a fellow FIFA ExCo member and a colleague of Warner’s in CONCACAF (he’s general secretary; Warner is President)—make them unprecedented.

Warner and Bin Hammam both denied the allegations, with Bin Hammam calling them “little more than a tactic” from his opponent, Blatter.

For more on this, check here, here, and here—and of course, stay tuned. It should be an interesting next several days.

U.S. Back in the Mix? Qatar Could Be Stripped of 2022 Cup

Not so fast? FIFA says it will investigate the Sunday Times claims.

This slipped through the cracks last week, but … better late than never: FIFA’s golden summer in Qatar may be in jeopardy after the governing body’s President, Sepp Blatter, stated last Thursday that there could be a re-staging of the vote for the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

According to The Independent, Blatter “said that a FIFA inquiry into claims made by The Sunday Times that there was corruption in the vote could lead to the FIFA executive committee (ExCo) voting again.”

Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as FIFA poobah in the June 1 election, is clearly shocked—shocked—to find that corruption may exist in his organization:

A rerun of the vote would of course be unprecedented. It’s possible that the 75-year-old native of Switzerland is engaging in some political posturing as he runs for re-election next month against the president of the Asian football confederation, Mohamed Bin Hammam, who hails from … wait for it… Qatar.

For more, check here, and here.

Oh, and there’s also this gem from Blatter today: He says he received a bribe upon his first election in 1998, but of course promptly turned over the cash—“I couldn’t refuse because he put it in my pocket”—to FIFA’s finance director, who made the bad guy reclaim it.

“Then it was specifically known,” says Blatter, “that please don’t try to give money to somebody who’s in FIFA.”

Yep. From that point forward, Sepp, it was specifically known….

In Tacit Admission that It Made the Wrong Decision, FIFA Considers Staging Qatar 2022 in Winter

Let’s just jump right in with this gem of a quote from FIFA’s top genius, Sepp Blatter, re the Hades-like temperatures in Qatar (still working on getting a definitive pronunciation on that, btw—‘cutter’ or ‘kuh-TAR’; if you know, let us know in the comments):

“FIFA’s job is to have a World Cup that protects the players so we take note of the recommendations and go through the list of requirements. We will look into this and make the right decision.”

We’re not even sure where to begin addressing this. The head of the world federation is, less than a month after awarding the tournament, already publicly suggesting it might need to be rescheduled due to problems within the newly-awarded host country—namely, it’s too g-d hot.

To do that—to uproot the World Cup from its traditional summer spot and plop it down in the middle of January or February—would require not only that most of the leagues in the world alter their schedules, but also that all World Cup–qualifying formats be re-routed.

Blatter and Co. would have to ask for the cooperation of pretty much the entire globe to pull this off. Either that, or ask them to compete in “air conditioned” venues and training grounds sprinkled around Doha, where it is illegal to work outside at midday in the summertime.

World Cup–Bid Fallout Continues

ESPN’S David Hershey called it The World’s Most Easily Purchased Sporting Event, while Grant Wahl over at SI asked, “Is it possible to win the World Cup hosting rights playing by the rules? I doubt it.”

Andy Anson, head of England’s 2018 bid, said, “…don’t bother bidding unless you know the process is going to change.”

Anson continued:

“When you have the best technical bid, fantastic inspection visits, the best economic report, and, from what people told us, the best presentation, it’s quite hard to stomach that all that seemed to count for absolutely nothing.”

U.S. bid committee members could be echoing those words, with the added dimension that bringing the Cup to the U.S. satisfies FIFA’s purported desire to bring the game to new frontiers—there is still much soccer territory to conquer in the U.S., and doing so would expand the game’s reach well beyond what will happen by bringing it to the brick oven of Qatar in 2022.

As BP reader Prison Mike said, the phrase “summertime in Qatar” alone is enough to provoke laughter.

According to Paul Kennedy at Soccer America:

“It is basically illegal to work outside in midday during the Qatari summer. Some folks disconnect their outside cold water tanks during the summer because the water is too hot.”

Lastly, we note the Shakespearean irony of Vladimir Putin’s high-horse refusal to attend the ceremonies, citing “unscrupulous competition” among the bidders.

Ha! Paging Queen Gertrude.

Now that the envelopes have been opened, it’s clear the gentlemen’s protest is far too much to stomach.

2022 World Cup Dream Slips Away

Blatter whiffs again.

As good as 2010 has been for U.S. Soccer, it’s winding up as a year of missed opportunities.

First there was the U.S. Round of 16 draw at South Africa 2010, a bracket that gave the Yanks the best opportunity to reach the semis that they’ve ever had in the modern era. That went down the drain with the overtime loss to a beatable Ghana team.

Then there were the MLS playoffs, in which glamour players such as David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez had a legit shot at reaching the league championship game and boosting the MLS profile—only to be upset by lower seeds along the way.

Now, in the final month of the year, the U.S. stood poised to host the 2022 World Cup, submitting a bid that, on paper, was easily the strongest among a group that included Australia, Japan/South Korea, and Australia.

When we wrote this preview yesterday, we were still in a blissfully naïve state of faith in the FIFA process. What we should have realized was that this documentary from the BBC about FIFA payoffs exposes probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Russia and Qatar, two nations with inferior soccer infrastructures to every other competing bidder—but crucially, a surplus of oil money—were awarded the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively.

The 2018 decision is dubious, but the 2022 result is downright farcical.

Qatar is a tiny nation (1.7 million according to the 2010 census) with almost no soccer history. As we said yesterday, they plan to organize the entire tournament within a 40-mile radius, they have three stadiums at the moment, and their summertime temperatures are ludicrously, dangerously high.

Also: no drinking, and, roughly speaking, a 17-century take on women’s rights. All of that should make for a festive atmosphere.

Yes, we’re a little bitter. If it had gone to Australia, we would have accepted that. But Qatar just makes no sense for the game.

As Backpost reader Abraham Thinkin’ pointed out, if FIFA was so serious about “bringing the Cup to the Middle East”, why not award it to a country with genuine soccer relevance, such as Saudi Arabia or Iran (or Egypt, except they’re only Middle Eastern in spirit and culture; geographically, they’re in Africa).

The RefBaiter also weighed in with some trenchant observations:

“If they awarded 2022 to the U.S., then 2026 could go to China. That is a growth opportunity. TV ratings in the U.S. and China would be huge. Development of the game would be tremendous.”

And think of the legacy that course would have left Sepp Blatter as top FIFA honcho. He would have grown the game to an unprecedented, historic extent.

But this? Well, as Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated posted to Twitter right after the announcement:

“Choosing Qatar and Russia is the biggest indictment possible that FIFA is not a clean organization. Petrodollars talk.”

So another opportunity slips away in 2010, but, as disappointing as it is, U.S. soccer will soldier on, and MLS will continue to thrive and attract (and develop) better and better players.

They’ll just both have to keep grinding it out, without the hyperdrive boost of a World Cup on the horizon.

Appendix: A Sampling of Internet Reactions to Both the 2018 and 2022 Decisions

[Hat-tips to Tim the Yorkshireman, and the Carolina Cannon]

“If it goes to Qatar I’ll simply give up on football.” [just prior to envelope time.]

“Qatar needs to thank its special consultant for the 2022 WC bid: Cam Newton’s father.”—Bill Simmons on Twitter

“Can we even get a drink in Qatar?”

“So even Belgium/Holland came ahead of England? Their video presentation had about 50 spelling mistakes, for the love of God.”

“Why couldn’t England host an alternative World Nations Cup based on the top seeded nations? Take FIFA out of the equation!”

“FIFA makes the IOC look like a charity.”—The Striker Liker

“Human beings are a pathetic, selfish, weak species, motivated by nothing other than money and power and FIFA proves this. Hopefully an alien spaceship passing by takes pity and nukes our planet into oblivion.”

•     •     •

That last one came from England, where they are clearly keeping their signature stiff upper lip.