Sepp Blatter and FIFA: Secret handshakes, racism and war crimes

Posted on November 19, 2011


I don’t really write about sport. But I do write about politics. And sometimes the two come into contact with one another in such a way that it’s difficult not to write about sport. And politics.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Chairman Sepp Blatter’s recent comments about racism in football come as no surprise to (English) fans. After controversy surrounding London’s World Cup bid earlier this year, not least focused on Blatter himself, FIFA has been marred with accusations of corruption, cronyism and illegality.

This week’s racism row is just another controversy in a big old list. It started after Blatter, in an interview with CNN, suggested racism should be solved with a handshake on the pitch. “There is no racism,” he said. “There is maybe one of the players towards another – he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one.

“But the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”

Football is a game, but racism, misogyny and any form of bigotry do not exist solely within a game, just as “the game” does not exist within some blissful microcosm separate from society. Racism on the pitch is racism in society.

FIFA does have a number of campaigns promoting equality, race relations and human rights through football, but Blatter’s words have shamed them. He has compromised those campaigns and my sympathies go to those working in their name who’ve been shamed by him.

Evidently Blatter needs to go, and you’ll struggle to find anyone in the country who disagrees. But there’s someone else marauding FIFA’s corridors that really, really needs to go. It’s Henry bloody Kissinger.

After claims of corruption caused a media storm following “England’s failed World Cup bid,” FIFA responded in the only way it knew how – by recruiting one of the 20th-century’s most infamous war criminals, backdoor imperialists and all-round gits. He is directly responsible for literally hundreds of thousands of deaths in South-East Asia, along with the rest of the world.

After winning his unopposed presidential election – his fourth – in June this year, Blatter announced he wanted to clear up FIFA, for good. A “Solutions Committee” was announced to do that job, and Kissinger, a long-time friend of Blatter, was invited to help.

As well as being emblematic of the way Blatter works in governance and business, it demonstrates his utter amorality, or ignorance, to the world outside – much like the way he’s dealt with the current racism row. Then again you can’t knock him for having an eye for the absurd. Just look at the friend he calls a “wise man.”

Henry Kissinger is partly responsible for the genocide in Cambodia at the hands of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979. As national security advisor to President Richard Nixon, Kissinger condoned a secret war against Cambodia as a sideshow to Vietnam. In 1973 alone, Cambodia saw more bombs from the underbellies of B-52s than Japan did in the entirety of the Second World War – including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed that works out as “the equivalent of five Hiroshimas,” as John Pilger – long-time reporter and campaigner in post-Year Zero Cambodia – puts it.

What was America’s justification? There wasn’t one. While masquerading as attacks on important Vietcong trade routes, in private Richard Nixon espoused the Cambodian bombing campaign as “The Madman Theory of War.” He wanted to freak the gooks into submission with unholy ordnance and nasal tones.

The bombing more than contributed to Pol Pot’s ascendancy to power. By 1975 Cambodia was a nation in remission and the Khmer Rouge literally walked into power, taking the streets of Phnom Penh with no more than a handful of tanks and a gang of lads dressed in black.

After only four years in power, the Khmer Rouge killed over 20% of Cambodia’s population – some two million in a country of eight million people. Nixon wanted them “bombed back to the Stone Age” and while he certainly did that, it was Pol Pot that sealed the deal.

The Cambodian leader, educated in France alongside Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, wanted an erasure of history and civilization in his new kingdom, styling himself on the old Cambodian monarchs of Angkor Wat. Cambodians were buried up to their shoulders and run over by bulldozers, forced to dig their own graves before being shot in the back of the head, executed in the jungles, in their homes and in the streets. Kissinger didn’t do the killing, but this is in his name.

But the things Kissinger did himself are even more damning in the face of his dealings with FIFA.

In the early 1970s Kissinger headed the “Zap Office” – officially, the Office of Multilateral Diplomacy. Here Kissinger “zapped” countries that voted against American interests in the United Nations Security Council by denying food and other humanitarian aid. This crime against human rights and international war is all the more unpalatable in that it was used in peacetime, against countries exercising their democratic right through the United Nations.

Kissinger has since reinvented himself as a European intellectual, effete diplomat and the man who opened up Maoist China to the West – not least with the release of his new book, On China.

Cumulatively, Blatter and Kissinger have destroyed the standing of FIFA as football’s governing body. They have proved that crony capitalism blights the governing bodies of our sports, just as it does our national governments.

Blatter needs to go, as does Kissinger. Since his official appointment on June 6, there has been little or no mention of his involvement in FIFA or how he hopes to solve its systemic corruption problem.

There should be a full, independent investigation into the organization’s inner workings (rather than the so-called Solutions Committee) so that it can be remade into a democratic and accountable governing body. This might, ultimately, bring an end to the endless scandals of secret handshakes, racism and war crimes in FIFA.

Posted in: Politics