ST's Rohit Brijnath's open letter to Fifa president Sepp Blatter: Sport needs transparency

Sepp Blatter pauses during a news conference at the Fifa headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, on June 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Sepp Blatter pauses during a news conference at the Fifa headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, on June 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Dear Sepp, Thank you for going. Seriously. I have a tiny granddaughter who I hope will kick a ball eventually. I want her to run, giggle, skin her knees, wear defeat, come home sweaty. I want her to enjoy all that sport offers and it's harder with folk like you around. Guys like you, all shining with hubris and bloated with entitlement, you tend to blur the beauty of sport.

Sport has given me a lot, Sepp - alas, you included. And Bernie Ecclestone, who wanders around Formula One like the dazed czar of a small kingdom. And cricket's N. Srinivasan, who needed the Indian Supreme Court to tell him that being the head of the Indian cricket board and owning an Indian Premier League team was a conflict of interest.

Should I go on, Sepp? There's the National Football League which initially gave Ray Rice just a fine and a two-game suspension for hitting a woman. There is the PGA Tour which doesn't disclose if a player is suspended for recreational drugs, which had even Steve Williams, the Darth Vader of caddies, sounding virtuous. "I always wished," he told Golf Digest, "the tour would disclose not just when a player has been suspended, but for what. Every other sport does it, and not revealing anything just invites speculation."

Look, Sepp, remember at all times, the only deceit we want comes from Ronaldo's foot or Novak Djokovic's wrist; the only drive we're interested in involves Valentino Rossi trying to pass Marc Marquez; the only high-flier we care for is LeBron James.

The best officials I've met, and there are many, know it's never about their ambitions, only the athletes. We have to remind you because you forget. Like you forgot America's Alex Morgan, who has an Olympic football gold medal. She told Time recently that at a Fifa player of the year event, "Fifa executives and Fifa president Sepp Blatter didn't know who I was. And I was being honoured as top three in the world".

You know why we love Messi: Because he makes us forget all of you. His skill is honest, true, noble, uplifting, dazzling. These are not adjectives quickly applied to many sports officials. Often, instead, we reach for disease to make the point. Former Manchester United captain Eric Cantona, talking last year about the Fifa elections and you and Uefa chief Michel Platini, who used to play a bit, said "it would be a good thing that, as they are all politicians, that a former player be elected head of Fifa. When you have to choose between the plague and cholera, it's better to get it from a doctor".

This Eric, I tell you.

Everything in sport percolates downwards. In Asia, Africa, wherever, administrators watch the posturing of top officials in their sport and think, this is the way, here are my role models. Then they start scrambling for their own power and often there's only one person who suffers: the athlete. Because instead of laying out a road to greatness for them, officials can become their obstacle.

Football needs fixing. To cheapen the awarding of a World Cup is sad; to be arguing right now about the body count of workers in Qatar is unconscionable; to hear that a US$900 million (S$1.2 billion) World Cup stadium in Brazil is being used as a parking lot is appalling.

Some sins, I acknowledge, aren't your fault. Like the silly, monopoly money we pay young footballers. Like the racist thug we stand behind because of the goals he scores for our club. Like the sponsors who issue statements which you can read from any angle and still they say nothing. Clearly there is a greater value in standing with a sullied Fifa than standing up for something.

What nags at me is sport absent of virtue; what bothers me is officials who idly preach fair play but don't live it. We want young athletes, often from tough backgrounds, now flush with money, to appreciate the idea of character, but older folk must show them the way.

I'm not jubilant at your exit, Sepp, but don't get excited. It's not that we're pals or anything, just that the next guy who heads Fifa will also be from Fifa. He, or she, might actually be revolutionary, but here's the problem: You've made us look at sport through a membrane of cynicism. And it is not the view I want my granddaughter to ever have.

Sport needs transparency at all times and perhaps we can start with the Football Association of Singapore, which wouldn't reveal who it voted for in the Fifa election. But it is our association, responsible for our football, run partly with public funds, so we need to know who it is voting for in our name.

Meanwhile, bon voyage and go with God. Or as He, who has only 1.98 million Twitter followers, noted yesterday: "Sepp Blatter is retiring to spend more time with his money."


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