Long before the Fifa executive awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, it was put to me by a colleague over dinner that Sepp Blatter was chasing after the Nobel Peace Prize.
If it made some sense back then, it makes even more sense now. First Africa, then Russia, then the Middle East – Mr Blatter and his Fifa buddies seem determined to show that the World Cup can be played anywhere, and Mr Blatter himself appears desperate to paint himself as a paragon of virtue for the entire universe.
Witness his self-satisfied eulogy at this week’s press conference, alongside South African president Jacob Zuma.
“A new era of Afro-optimism has swept across the continent and the world,” said Blatter. “Africans have always believed in themselves. Now the world believes in them too. The World Cup contributed a great deal to this change of perception.”
Excuse me while I vomit in the nearest available bucket. Yes, the World Cup provided South Africa with an enormous burst of positivity, yet it is followed by exactly the same issues that preceded it – an exceedingly high unemployment rate, a worrying crime problem, serious HIV/AIDS issues, etc, etc.
It’s fantastic that people are more optimistic about this country, but I would be helpful if Mr Blatter didn’t start losing himself in a deluge of hyperbole.
Zuma, for all his faults, took a far more measured approach here.
“We have achieved our goals with regard to the successful hosting of the World Cup. Now remains the difficult task of ensuring a legacy in both soccer and social development.”
Fifa have given a total of about R680 million to South Africa in the wake of the 2010 World Cup. Just before we start harping on about their generosity, let’s be clear, Fifa’s overall profits from the World Cup 2010 are believed to be between two and three billion US dollars.
Assurances have been made that none of this money the country has received will be spent on bonuses, and that all of it will, overseen by auditing firm Ernst and Young, be put into football, education, healthcare and other humanitarian issues.
Focusing on football, there is no doubt money badly needs to be spent, with development in a pretty sorry state across the regions. For neither of our national Under-17 or Under-20 teams to qualify for their respective continental competitions is a total disgrace, given the resources available here, even without Fifa’s extras.
I’ll be fascinated to see how this money is spent, and, ultimately, whether it does have an impact on the state of the game. I sincerely hope it does, but for now, I’m not about to launch into a Blatter-style praise-song.