The last time we checked in with FIFA “President for Life” Sepp Blatter, he was telling us that boycotts of sporting events are ridiculous, ineffective and never work. Sepp Blatter was wrong.
Yesterday, Blatter continued his “What in the hell did you just say?” tour, sharing his thoughts on the cult of FIFA and, thus, the FIFA president’s godlike powers with Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung.
The question presented by Martin Player was about using soccer to seek justice in the world. Blatter responded, in part:
“FIFA, with the positive emotions that football unleashes, is more influential than any country on Earth and any religion.”
“We move masses. We want to use it to create more peace, justice and health in the world.”
Let’s recap. Sepp Blatter believes that FIFA is more influential than any country or any religion. [pause, inhale, exhale] Let that sink in. That means, according to Blatter’s mind, FIFA is more influential than the United States and China. It also means FIFA is more influential than India, Russia, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Scientology. That, on its face, is categorically insane.
If a random person on the street or a friend or family member uttered those words, you would stop taking that person’s opinions seriously. When introducing that person to friends, you’d whisper to said friends something to the effect of “Hey, just to let you know, you’re about to hear some batshit crazy nonsense and don’t you dare believe a thing you hear” before the introduction. That’s because people who authoritatively spout nonsense, going way above and beyond the bounds of reality, shouldn’t be trusted, and they certainly shouldn’t be given a seat at the serious people’s table.
But perhaps that’s too harsh, because there’s actually a less cynical view of Blatter’s response that turns on the concept of “influence.” There’s no denying soccer’s massive appeal, if the measure is the billions of people who play or otherwise consume the game around the world. The game can and has influenced politics, helped those in need, and encouraged a healthy lifestyle for many. Soccer touches people’s lives in countless ways. That’s really beyond dispute.
But there’s a danger in recklessly thinking that FIFA, as an institution, is even on par with those that have been shaping individual and cultural world views for centuries. Sepp Blatter isn’t a Pope. His words don’t impact how children around the world will view themselves over the course of their lives. His organization’s official position on anything won’t result in masses of people spreading disease because they listened to a stranger telling them that the use of contraception is a sin.
It’s also more than a little disconcerting that Blatter believes that FIFA’s influence is on par with actual nation states that boast massive armies and nuclear weapons, nations whose policies literally impact whether people live or die, eat or starve, and exactly how people will go about doing those things.
Blatter’s worldview, with FIFA as a godlike, omnipotent presence, is problematic because of how people generally act when they assume godlike, omnipotent personas: democratic principles of consensus fall by the wayside, checks and balances are ignored, people act with shocking levels of impunity, corruption festers.
But these problems are compounded when the message starts shifting to a savior narrative. No longer is FIFA important because it helps to manage the game. The Zurich-based organization, and Blatter as its head, is now the reason the game exists. What’s worse is that if FIFA and Blatter are bigger and more powerful than nations and religions, tribute must be paid, because how in the world would we survive without them?
The sad part is that Blatter’s words are such a bastardized version of reality. Outside of smoky back rooms, soccer doesn’t exist because of FIFA; FIFA exists because of regular civilians who love the game, civilians who would undoubtedly continue to love it if FIFA were to disappear overnight. There’s a reason it’s called “the people’s game,” even though that name has become increasingly less accurate.
But the game is now a corporate game, and Blatter’s rhetoric effectively legitimizes the corporatization of the game at the expense of average civilians, prioritizing the legitimacy of an all-powerful institution in Zurich to do as it sees fit across the globe, because it can do what nations and religions can’t.
It’s an amazing proclamation on Blatter’s part, but it shouldn’t be too shocking. Blatter has been on this mission for years under the guise of “growing the game,” and his mission is succeeding. He’s grown FIFA into the world’s biggest non-profit religious institution: the Church of Blatter. And he’ll have time for you, as long as you follow his rules and know your place — behind him.