Osasu Obayiuwana: A symphony of equivocation

Since Sepp Blatter’s intriguing statement, at the last Asian Football Confederation (AFC) elective congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that 2015, the year he promised to bid adieu to the FIFA presidency, will mark the “last term, not of office, but of the reform [of football governance],” the cat has, without question, been set amongst the speculating pigeons.

Surely the 77-year-old, who will be on the cusp of becoming an octogenarian, by world football’s next elective congress, will not commit the ultimate career faux pas and seek another four-year term of office?

A year ago, at the London Olympics, Blatter made it pretty clear, in a lengthy conversation I had with him, that seeking another presidential term, after a 17-year stretch as the sport’s supremo, is completely out of the question.

“I have said this many times, I will not go beyond 2015. After that, we will see what will happen. But I will not be there any longer. In 2015, I will be 79 years old and I would have had exactly, if not more than, 40 years in FIFA. That is enough and a good record,” he said.

So, the question of currency, which obviously begs to be answered, is why this thick cloud of equivocation, about a post-Blatter FIFA, even exists.

The answer does lie, once more, by examining one of my choice books of reference – Niccolo Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’.

The Florentian, who makes no bones about telling the unvarnished, uncomfortable truth about the murky, cut-throat nature of acquiring power and describing the peculiar character of those desperately seeking it – or wanting to maintain a firm grip on what they have, till the very end – has a 400-year-old answer to the riddle.

“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten wolves,” he observes.

Simply translated, it means the use of subterfuge, as well as creating a cloud of uncertainty, are valid tools, in Machiavelli’s opinion, whilst trying to outwit political foes in the achievement of a desired political objective.

As the just concluded FIFA congress in Mauritius clearly indicates, the gulf between Blatter and Michel Platini’s UEFA has grown wider, as contrasting views, on how the world game will be shaped, guarantees that an era of détente between the two is impossible.

The decision of Europe to completely boycott a vote, on term and age limits for FIFA executive members, clearly testifies to that.

And as Professor Mark Pieth, the chair of the International Governance Committee, rightly observed, in his hard-hitting remarks before the congress, the bitter fight between the two bodies ensured there was no chance of pushing the entire gamut of his committee’s well-thought-out reform proposals through.

What is even clearer, although I seriously doubt Blatter would admit it to me – or any other journalist for that matter – is that his greatest challenge, assuming, of course, he genuinely intends to stick to his promise to quit, is how to maintain his authority over world football, as well as shape its course, over the next two years, without being afflicted by the ‘lame duck’ curse.

With the clock running down on his final (?) term, as each day passing by gives him less time to mould FIFA in ways he will consider irrevocable, well after his departure, there are many opposing interest groups who plan to frustrate the agenda of the Swiss or set the stage for the enthronement of their own roadmap, by filibustering every proposal Blatter makes over the next 24 months, a scenario he is certainly trying to neuter.

As long as Blatter believes, however hard he’ll try to wear a toga of impartiality, over the eventual field for the 2015 poll, that his preferred successor (anyone but Michel Platini), who must share his ‘global vision’ of the game – does not have the worldwide support to win a presidential vote, there always is a risk, however big or small, that he could break his promise to quit.

“I hope that I can hand over FIFA to someone with the qualities and aptitude to lead… and not forget what FIFA is… FIFA is about the game for everybody, the world game. It is not only for those that think they are the ones dominating football,” he told me, in a rather undisguised reference to Europe’s power brokers.

The tussle (or is bloodletting a more appropriate word?) between FIFA and UEFA, as the rest of the fraternity watches with keen interest, as they develop their own political positions for the post-Blatter era, will certainly provide a lot of drama in the months ahead.

What it ends up conjuring – and whether it will be in the best interests of football, throughout the world, as varying and competing interests struggle to be heard – is a completely different matter.

Postscript – For anyone keen on having some real insight into Michel Platini’s thoughts on the game, his recent conversation with Martin Samuel, of the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, is highly recommended.

The UEFA president’s answers, particularly on the workability of their Financial Fair Play rules and the influence of the powerful “G-14” group of clubs, on the development of UEFA policy, are extremely informative.

Here is the link – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2329745/Martin-Samuel-meets-Michel-Platini–read-FULL-transcript-interview-UEFA-president.html

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1696199867labto1696199867ofdlr1696199867owedi1696199867sni@a1696199867nawui1696199867yabo.1696199867usaso1696199867

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s newly convened anti-racism task force.