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Is it just me or are people kicking up a stink over Sepp Blatter for nothing?

By Sean O'Grady

Published 30/05/2015

Under pressure: Fifa president Sepp Blatter has been re-elected despite the crisis engulfing the body
Under pressure: Fifa president Sepp Blatter has been re-elected despite the crisis engulfing the body

I think this is what civil servants tell ministers is a 'brave' thing to do. I am going to - right here, right now - stick up for Sepp Blatter. Looking at the vast global media coverage - I confess, including the Belfast Telegraph's - you would think all of this is the most important matter facing the world. Almost.

Bigger than climate change, bigger than the economy, bigger than Islamic State, bigger than North Korea's nukes. We have lost all sense of proportion.

Sometimes, journalists write things just to be 'controversial' (for which read 'offensive' to those who disagree). This is no such argument.

As you can see, I've hesitated before declaring my central point here because of my nervousness about what I am about to say, but the time has arrived: it is only football.

Yes, I know corruption is wrong, I know it should be rooted out and I know it causes real harm. But this corruption is in the world of sport. It is not something that really matters, or should matter, that much to people.

If we were to discover that the World Health Organisation, or Unicef, or HM Treasury, or the White House, or Google, or the BBC were systematically corrupt, then, yes, that would matter a good deal, for fairly obvious reasons.

Real lives and livelihoods are at stake; real human welfare being perverted for personal gain by some crook, or other.

Now I know footie is a huge global business - witness the sponsorship and obscene salaries in the world-beating Premier League - but it is all rather irrational.

I recall that great quote by (I think) Bill Shankly about football being more much important than life or death. That, though, was such a clever and striking phrase, because it summed up just how passionately fans care about their team(s) and the beautiful game.

Indeed, World Cup football is just about the only kind I watch and I greatly enjoy it.

Yet people are wrong to care about it so much. It is not rational to do so.

I do not, you see, confuse it with the movement to end world hunger, or defeat religious extremism. Football has got too big for its boots, in a sense; and we really oughtn't to upset ourselves so much about it.

To me, watching the great Fifa crisis, it is as if the Flat Earth Society had suddenly been caught out with some naughtiness, and a whole nation had descended into grief as a result. Perspective, as I say.

Second, I have to say that, as far as I can see, the Blatter way of doing business may have something to be said for it.

He beat Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan to remain president yesterday partly because he makes sure that Fifa spends lots of cash in Africa and Asia, building football facilities of one kind or another.

Er, that is surely a "good thing", is it not?

What is wrong with helping kids in Kenya, or Trinidad, become sports stars, or at least enjoy the game as much as German, or French, kids?

Maybe we feel as though only European football really counts, revealed in the slightly condescending attitude you sometimes saw in the media as nations such as Cameroon and Nigeria started to emerge as footballing forces.

If Sepp Blatter was behind that broadening of football worldwide, then that is a plus on his balance sheet.

I also wonder whether some of the bile that is sprayed onto this odd little man is due to the fact that England/Britain failed to win the bids to host the next two tournaments and instead they went to counties we don't think much of for reasons unconnected with sport - Russia and Qatar.

So, I may be a lone, despised voice here, but I am, still, free to voice an opinion, I hope, though the football fascists will abuse me for it. Sepp Blatter gets my vote.

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