FIFA “President for Life” Sepp Blatter wants all of you people talking about World Cup boycotts to know: He’s not trying to hear that noise. According to Blatter, boycotts are nonsense. The only thing that can heal the demons plaguing the world is the glorious, magical FIFA World Cup. It’s Robitussin for the masses.
Speaking earlier this week from FIFA’s Executive Committee meeting in Zurich, Blatter made his thoughts on boycotts clear:
A boycott of the World Cup or any sporting event has never brought any solutions to anybody.
His words were inspired by a call earlier in the week from Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, who asked his nation’s allies to consider a boycott of the 2018 World Cup if Russia doesn’t pull its troops out of Ukraine. Blatter also mentioned the European Parliamentary committee’s interest in boycotting the 2022 Qatar World Cup several months ago. His statement was meant to rebut these calls, and those like it from other camps, and to emphatically let you silly people know that these calls are meaningless and empty because boycotts of sporting events never work.
Blatter’s words sound authoritative because he uses the world “never” (“has never brought any solutions to anybody”), but the inconvenient truth is that he’s absolutely wrong. Like completely 1100 percent wrong. In fact, as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Blatter should be well aware of just how wrong he is.
Back in 1967, the IOC sent a committee to apartheid South Africa to assess what the country’s Olympic committee was doing to comply with IOC regulations, specifically, in regard to the Olympic Charter’s spirit of promoting tolerance in sport and shunning racial discrimination. Ultimately, after excluding South Africa from the 1964 Olympic Games, the Commission concluded that South Africa was making progress toward selecting an Olympic team selected on merit rather than race. The IOC took a vote. The result: 38 to 27 in favor of allowing South Africa to field a team for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
This vote didn’t please plenty of people around the world. The reaction was swift. Thirty-two member nations of the Organization of African Unity immediately announced that they would boycott the 1968 Olympics if South Africa was allowed to participate. That number quickly ballooned to 45 nations. The Irish Anti-Apartheid movement began calling on the Irish Olympic Council to boycott the Mexico City games. Prominent South African anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus, then the leading member of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, was “convinced that Mexico would not have held the Games without the African nations and those other countries who had decided to withdraw if South Africa took part.”
In the face of vociferous opposition, the IOC called for another vote. By a margin of 48 to 14 (with two nations abstaining), the IOC voted to exclude South Africa from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
It turns out, boycotts do work. They’ve even worked in an organization that counts Blatter as a member.
However, hilariously, Blatter thinks the solution for everyone’s ills is more World Cup for everyone.
“In my opinion the World Cup in Russia will be able to stabilize all that region in Europe.”
Bold. Very bold.
So here’s Blatter’s math. Russia invades Ukraine. Pro-Russian forces remain in Ukraine, destabilizing significant parts of the country. Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to have little interest in making concessions. Diplomacy hasn’t worked. Few are able to bully Putin. But somehow, where all else has failed, magical soccer will stabilize the region.
Maybe the question people should be asking isn’t about Blatter’s platform or vision for the future. Perhaps we need to be asking if Sepp Blatter is sane, because most of the things that come out of his mouth pertaining to the World Cup have little to zero basis in reality.
And that’s a problem. Or, at least, it should be, because that’s not the kind of person you want running a raffle, let alone an organization with $1.5 billion in its bank account. And the sport FIFA controls? It’s worth much, much more.