Africa, Blatter's Africa

Friday, 29 May 2015

/ by Colin
This turf, and the Sudan FA HQ in the background were funded with FIFA Goal Project aid

Half the world (read mostly Europe and USA) appear to be going plain bonkers over Sepp Blatter's reelection as president of world football's governing body.

Over the last two years, Blatter has been held out as the standard bearer for corruption within the world's most popular sport. In the last couple of days, sparked by the indictment and arrest of high-ranking officials of FIFA, that scrutiny assumed intensity on a scale not only previously unseen, but unlikely to be matched again, in any sport. 

That Blatter was not one of them, or even mentioned in relation to the charges, did little to help his cause.

Outside of, and within football, many called for and expected the FIFA president to step down, or postpone the elections at the very least.

Neither happened. Instead, Blatter saw off the challenge of HRH Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan.

Which led to the question, where did Blatter get the 133 votes with which he topped Prince Ali's 73 in the first round of voting? More importantly, why did he get those votes in the face of this deluge?

The answer is mostly from Africa (53), Asia (46) and North America, sans the USA (35). While it's hard to know who voted, Africa via CAF had already made it clear that all of their votes would go as a block to Blatter. Nothing changed in the days leading up to the election.

To understand Africa's deep loyalty to Blatter, one would have to go back all the way to 1974. That was the year Brazilian Joao Havelange defeated Englishman Stanley Rous to become FIFA president, the first non European to hold the post.

To do so, Havelange went on a global campaign binge, spanning nearly 90 countries, with star dust supplied by Pele and a manifesto to accommodate more developing nations.

Prior to that, FIFA was little better than a European old boys club, who turned up their noses at the likes of Africa and Asia, offering the token crumb to avoid the sort of 'World Series' tag common in the USA where a 'World Champion' emerges from a national championship.

Havelange changed that. He expanded the World Cup from 16 to 24, then 32 teams. Africa's representation went from a miserly one spot to two, then 5 under his watch.

Havelange also introduced age grade and women tournaments, making them more inclusive for developing nations.

When Blatter took over as Havelange's anointed candidate, he revved it up a notch. The Swiss increased development funding almost 40-fold. He pushed the GOAL Project which helped fund national federation headquarters and built training pitches.
Capacity-building programmes for coaches, administrators and referees also flourished under Blatter.

But the icing on the cake was making it his personal mission to ensure Africa (and Asia) hosted FIFA tournaments, with South Africa 2010 being Africa's cherry on top.

Blatter had not only promised Africa, he had more than delivered. And forever won his place in African hearts, at least as far as those whose votes count are concerned. 

Few people are even aware,my hat when Ebola broke out at in West Africa, FIFA was the first international organization to step in and offer aid.

Ally that to the iron will with which Issa Hayatou runs CAF, and there is little room for dissent.

To dislodge him would require an event of far more seismic proportions than what transpired in Zurich. Even at that, it would probably take Blatter voluntarily stepping aside. 

With the loyalty he commands, any candidate seeking the African vote would need Blatter's blessing. Perhaps, even in incarceration.

While campaigning at the CAF Congress earlier this year, impeccable sources say Luis Figo was told in no uncertain terms that he would not get a single vote from Africa and 'advised' to drop his ambition for the moment if he hoped to get any of those votes in future.

The next day, he flew out.

The African vote is tight. It is united. It is Blatter's. This is less about corruption, and more about delivery. And loyalty.

Africa does not trust Europe. And until Europe, or whichever candidate its flavour of the month is, shows concrete evidence that Africa's interest will be given the same seat at the table, status quo will remain.

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