England’s colonial views of Sepp Blatter’s FIFA highlights struggles with soccer’s changing reality

FIFA “President for Life” Sepp Blatter will not last the duration of his four-year term, according to England’s FA chairman Greg Dyke.

Dyke, a former chief executive and editor-in-chief of the BBC, has been vocal about his disgust for FIFA ever since he took on his FA leadership role in 2013. Yet while much of what Dyke says comes across as a reasonable disdain for corruption, his words are also representative of the type of globally tone deaf rhetoric that enables Blatter to not only win elections, but continue solidifying his base.

Speaking about Blatter’s re-election, Dyke told the Guardian:

What I think was surprising, was that a third of the delegates votes against him. And interestingly, most of the delegates in Europe and virtually all the delegates in Latin America — the two big footballing continents — voted against Blatter. I think it’ll be very difficult for Blatter to sustain his position. I’d put money today that he won’t be there in four-year’s time.

According to Dyke, the big news was that a third of the votes were against Blatter. Perhaps more importantly, they were from all the “big” continents. That’s why Blatter won’t make it through his four-year term.

Now, it would be disingenuous to dispute that Europe and Latin America — the so-called “big footballing continents” — have the most lucrative leagues that derive the most revenue and host the biggest stars. But it’s also a top-down view of the game that feels a lot like someone saying that the game belongs to the people with money. And while in many ways that sentiment is correct, it’s not difficult to hear the same statement as dismissive and arrogant to the parts of the world housing the majority of the planet’s human beings.

Dyke’s tone deafness, echoed by other administrators, politicians, pundits, and journalists in Europe, also doesn’t account for soccer’s rapidly changing global landscape.

It wasn’t too long ago when fans residing on the so-called smaller footballing continents were thirsting to catch a glimpse of their European soccer heroes in the flesh. But today, the biggest Premier League teams, and even some of the mediocre ones, are whimsically jumping on thousand-mile plane rides for pre-season tours of Asia and Africa. That’s not just because thousand-mile journeys after months of beating up your body are the best thing for a professional athlete’s body; it’s because big European teams are well aware that, at least economically, the smaller footballing continents matter.

When you couple that reality with Dyke’s words, you get the following mantra: Yes, we want your money and markets, but you can’t have a seat at the big boys’ table. That may or may not be what Dyke or his allies mean, but that’s how their words resonate.

Here’s another Dyke observation:

I don’t think [Blatter’s] position is sustainable. A third of the delegates in that conference were brave enough to stand up and say “I don’t want you.”

This statement is accurate, but it neglects another obvious reality: two-thirds of the delegates said “I want you” to Blatter. Given the pressure FIFA’s under at the moment, that basic oversight provides a lot of insight into why England and the so-called big footballing nations are in this predicament in the first place. It’s the same principle that stands in any election: electorates don’t vote for candidates who consistently dismiss, belittle and patronize their existence. Because why on earth would voters think a candidate would treat them any better upon emerging victorious?

Dyke’s patronizing will only serve to harden those already positioned against his cause. And that’s a lot of people. Going off Dyke’s own math, that’s actually two-thirds of the people. Their positions will likely become more entrenched because Dyke’s effectively saying, in a democratic, “one country, one vote” electoral system (as is FIFA’s electoral process for president), Europe and certain Latin American countries matter more. Even if that might be accurate when discussing revenues, in elections that aren’t won by throwing expensive dicks on the table, a reasonable response from the other two-thirds of the world to his tone deaf righteousness might be, “Hey, big footballing nations, go fuck yourselves. We’re going with the other guy.”

And so here we are. Sepp Blatter was overwhelmingly elected to a fifth term, and Europe and the United States are harping on and on about justice and fairness, conveniently ignoring inconvenient facts and questions about their complicity. It’s an amazingly predictable mess.

Meanwhile, Dyke thinks his one-third is a movement. He might be correct. But it’s just as likely that the two-thirds is the movement and that the one-third might need to learn how to talk to the increasingly powerful two-thirds as if they matter.