There he was, doing his lovable leader act: the little father of all the world, humble and slightly dishevelled. The great suit was back before the world: but this time the clothes have no emperor. It was time for farewell.
Sepp Blatter has resigned as president of Fifa. He was able to keep on for 17 years on a mixture of dazzling effrontery and the fact that so many people in Fifa were actually in favour of a corrupt system. It’s so much easier to deal with people when you can price their degree of self-interest with complete precision.
Many, many people had been happy with the corrupt system of running world football: but drew the line when everyone could plainly see that it was stinking. I remember seeing a hippo carcass two days old, its surface visibly moving with maggots and its scent discernible from long range. That’s Fifa.
They re-elected Nixon after Watergate and it took two more years to get him out. They re-elected Blatter, but he lasted only a few more days before announcing that a new candidate would be chosen at an extraordinary congress to be held as soon as possible.
Which leaves football reeling. It’s all very well demanding reform and new blood: but now the bluff has been called. Someone’s got to get voted in and reform. And plenty of those doing the voting don’t really want reform: they want the same as before, but with no more trouble.
Blatter’s only opponent at the last election, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan may well be in pole position. If the Uefa president, Michel Platini chooses to stand, he will have a decent following – but as he never really came out against Blatter, he will be compromised in some eyes.
Top of the agenda for the new incumbent will be the next two World Cups: Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. Both are, at least by implication, hopelessly compromised by the allegations of corruption. But reallocating either would be problematic, and any attempt at doing so would be joyfully welcomed by our learned friends in many nations.
Qatar is the really tricky one. That was a real hippo-stinker of a decision. Qatar is, to put things simply, a stupid place to hold a football tournament. It’s too small and too hot. The ghastly treatment of migrant workers and their regular deaths has become an issue impossible to ignore. The only reason for holding it there is money and Qatar’s desperate love of showing off to the world by means of sport. Will Fifa dare to change that decision and take the World Cup elsewhere?
Football is in a mess, but a lucrative mess. Trying to set about reform will be even messier. Still, the International Olympic Committee went through a startlingly similar scandal a little more than a decade back, and that is now a much more transparent organisation. So it can be done.
So let’s be hopelessly naïve and wonder about the best thing that could happen. And that would be to get the game run by people who think that sport has some kind of meaning itself. Football is a bringer of joy, but it has been run for years by people who see it only as a bringer of money.
Thus an activity deigned for the beautiful youth of the world has been hijacked by disgusting old men, crazed by power and in love with money. It’s time we changed that. It’s time that all sports were run for the benefit of sport: for the global merriment it can bring and for the lofty pursuit of excellence that sport has at its core.