Game Trapped in a Moral Dilemma; GAME ON: THE LAST WORD

Article excerpt


F OR YEARS the British media have lampooned Sepp Blatter as a foot- in-the-mouth liability, the autocratic Swiss apparatchik who put the Figure of Fun into FIFA.

His eccentric pronouncements have invariably been presented as an extension of the bureaucratic madness that inevitably ensued when, in a moment of benign weakness, we permitted foreigners to run the European Union.

But this week Blatter suddenly transformed himself into a tabloid hero with an extraordinary attack on the blights - "pornographic amounts of money ... the majority fighting with spears while the greedy few have the financial equivalent of nuclear warheads ...semi-educated, foul-mouthed players on pounds 100,000 a week holding clubs to ransom" - corrupting football.

Although President Blatter's empire embraces a couple of hundred national FAs, he clearly regards England as the rotten-to-the-core root of these evils. And while his views were expounded in an interview with the Financial Times, they might well have been scripted by the leader writers of the Sun and The Daily Mail.

The football star as super-lout, squandering his ill-gotten millions on sex, drugs and bling accoutrements, is a favourite media metaphor for our degenerate society, so Blatter's blast was a prime example of shooting fish in a barrel - big fish; in a very small barrel; from point-blank range; with a Gattling Gun!

But while most of us would sympathise with his basic premise ("what logic, right or economic necessity would qualify a man in his mid-20s to demand in a month a sum that his own father, and the majority of fans, could not hope to earn in a decade") it's an utterly futile complaint.

Yes, it would be a wonderful thing if footballers' wages were directly related to their behaviour on and off the field - the Bobby Charlton Clause, perhaps - but you can't do that any more than you order the likes of Lee Bowyer to donate a lump of their salary to, say, Tom Finney's pension fund.

It would be great if Roman Abramovich suddenly developed a philanthropic conscience and decided that, rather than giving Chelsea an unassailable financial advantage, he would dole out equal beneficence to Wigan Athletic, Coventry City, Stockport County et al. But that's not going to happen, either.

Life isn't (and never has been) fair. Even such distinguished political philosophers as John Rawls and Robert Nozick never managed to crack the practical problems of distributive justice, and look at the trouble Karl Marx stirred up when he devised his 'from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs' theory.

Blatter has the power to address some specific scandals, such as this week's Daily Telegraph revelation that a testimonial match for Ferenc Puskas saw Real Madrid pocket pounds 892,000 while their legendary striker, now stricken by Alzheimer's and living in poverty, was presented with a cheque for just pounds 7,000. But his newly-acquired media supporters should be very alarmed at his pledge to set up a FIFA taskforce to investigate and reform "a football society of haves and have nots."

If God, in His infinite wisdom, is unwilling to ensure than only nice people win the Lottery, I really don't think that we can trust Sepp Blatter to impose a moral dimension on the beautiful game.

A T THE height of this week's anti-Sven witch-hunt - midway between the victories over Austria and Poland that ensured England won their World Cup qualifying group - Jack Charlton was lured into the debate on the Swede's man-management style. …