Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, joined the worldwide chorus hailing NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to suspend Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life on Tuesday for racist remarks recorded by his girlfriend. Blatter’s position on racism in soccer during his now 16-year reign atop FIFA has always remained highly suspect. Of course, the 78-year-old is contemplating running for re-election in 2015, so anything other than full support of Silver and denouncement of Sterling would be a surprise.
Wednesday’s tweet is a far cry from Blatter’s now infamous statement from 2011 about how he felt racism on the field should be handled in the wake of the incidents involving John Terry and Luis Suarez.
"“Maybe one of the players has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but the one who is effected by that, he should say that ‘this is a game’. “We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”"
Blatter eventually apologized for that asinine statement, but it still helps show why the governing body of the world’s most popular sport has failed to adequately address the issue despite it’s “Say No to Racism” campaign.
Last year Blatter spoke out following a highly-publicized racial incident involving then-AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng. Blatter said:
"“It is not enough to give a fine. Playing a game without spectators is one of the possible sanctions, but the best would be the deduction of points and the relegation of a team, because finally the club is responsible for their spectators.”"
Here’s another statement on racism in soccer from Blatter made in 2013:
"“We need to eliminate teams from a competition or deduct points. Only by such decisions is it possible to go against racism and discrimination. If we don’t do that it will go on and go on. We have to stop it; we need the courage to do it.”"
That “courage” translated into fines of $38,000 and $32,000 to the soccer federations of Croatia and Greece for right-wing/facist banners and imagery during World Cup qualifiers. Both teams will participate in the World Cup finals this summer in Brazil.
How and what Blatter does in the wake of the Dani Alves banana incident on Sunday in Spain bears close watching. Although there are emerging reports that the gesture was planned in advance by Alves and Barcelona teammate Neymar, the “#weareallmonkeys” movement has caught on worldwide thanks to the power of players using social media. Planned or not, it’s still an excellent idea by players taking a stance against racism. It’s a perfect time for Blatter to act and crack down, or at least show his feelings aren’t more lip service.
Granted, it’s much more straightforward for Silver to act. Removing one 80-year-old owner caught on tape making vile comments is easier than it is to police every stadium worldwide for racist or hate-speech. Even so, if Blatter applauds the decision by the NBA commissioner and is truly serious about stamping racism out of his sport he’ll act.
Force teams to not simply play games behind closed doors, but issue real punishments: kick a team out of the Champions League or World Cup because its fans can’t make it through 90 minutes of a soccer game without making “monkey noises.” If a player is proven to racially slur an opponent, get tough and ban him for life like Sterling — or at least make that a potential penalty for repeat violators. All the other half-measures taken by FIFA have helped, in doses, but haven’t been strong enough to eliminate the problem.
Silver acted swiftly and harshly. Given Blatter’s track record here, expect more statements than actual action to provoke change.