Blatter’s remark was in response to the discussion of Manchester City midfielder Yaya Touré, who was allegedly the subject of racist abuse at a Champion’s League match in Moscow this past week. Touré stated, “If we [black footballers] aren’t confident at the World Cup, coming to Russia, we don’t come”. This incident has drawn international attention and speculation, and was a key subject of the debate with Blatter at the Union.
Blatter’s remarks came as part of a litany of self-justification in the face of critiques of FIFA in the public sphere. “Perhaps you think I am a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of the world and out of football – the Godfather of the FIFA gravy train, an out-of-touch, heartless schmoozer,” he joked with the audience. He later went on to suggest that he and FIFA were “a scapegoat” for larger social problems that come to a head in football matches.
Racism has nevertheless been a virulent issue for FIFA over the course of Blatter’s fifteen-year tenure as president. Over the past few years in England alone, the Premier League has seen drawn-out legal battles like that of Chelsea captain and then-England captain John Terry, who was charged last year for racially abusing former QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, and heated debates about the usefulness of anti-racism campaigns like Kick It Out.
Yaya Touré’s case against CSKA Moscow supporters goes before UEFA’s disciplinary board on Wednesday, and after Blatter’s remarks at the Union is expected to fuel the on-going debate about how to stamp racism out of football. Sepp Blatter’s solution? “We have to take more sanctions that hurt clubs because financial sanctions do not hurt”, he said Friday. “FIFA has taken a resolution and has said after a warning you can have other sanctions and these would mean you could deduct points or expel people from a competition.” Blatter stressed the importance of targeting reputations and ability to compete rather than earnings as lasting consequences for racism.
Blatter’s words at the recent Oxford Union debate have drawn fire from more than anti-racism campaigners in the international football limelight. On Tuesday evening, Cristiano Ronaldo demanded an apology for one of Blatter’s more light-hearted responses in the debating chamber. When asked to compare the Real Madrid star with Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, Blatter declared: “One has more expenses for the hairdresser than the other”. Blatter later called this an “amusing” off-the-cuff statement, Ronaldo stressed in a Facebook post: “This shows clearly the respect and consideration that FIFA has for me, for my club, and my country”. Blatter has since apologised.
Blatter is currently eligible for a fifth term as FIFA president. After Friday’s Union debate, however, one postgraduate student echoed the feelings of many footballers and fans alike: “He should just step down. An innocent and responsible president shouldn’t have to spend that much time explaining why they’re not a disgrace to the game.”