Blatter's blather denying racism prompts uproar

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

World soccer's most powerful man once again proved he also is one of its most ignorant with an extraordinary outburst in which he claimed racism is not an issue that impacts the sport.

Despite a series of recent controversies involving racism, FIFA president Sepp Blatter issued his latest outrageous, politically incorrect absurdity in an interview with CNN World Sport.

Soccer authorities in many countries are still fighting to rid soccer of the scourge of racist antics, yet Blatter insisted that any such problems could be resolved with a handshake.

Asked if he believed that racist acts took place on the field of play, Blatter said: "I would deny it. There is no racism. There is maybe one of the players towards another – he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But also the one who is affected 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. I think the whole world is aware of the efforts we are making against racism and discrimination.

"And, on the field of play sometimes you say something that is not very correct, but then at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better."

Speaking later, on Al Jazeera, he added: "During a match you may say something to someone who's not looking exactly like you, but at end of the match it's forgotten."

Blatter is no stranger to controversy, having previously urged female players to wear tighter shorts to make them more attractive. He's made insensitive remarks about homosexuals in soccer and been involved in several scandals in which he and FIFA have been accused of corruption.

Out of all the comments Blatter has made during his 13-year reign, though, this may be the most ill-advised, if only because of its timing. Blatter's words came as England captain John Terry was under investigation for allegedly uttering a racist comment at English player Anton Ferdinand, and Liverpool's Luis Suarez was charged Wednesday with racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United.

Within hours of Blatter's comments being broadcast, the soccer world had turned against him and forced him to issue an apology.

The Kick It Out campaign, an action group aimed at eradicating racism from soccer, described Blatter as being "worryingly out of touch" and refused to accept his position.

"Shaking hands to compensate for a racial slur is not what the game has signed up to, and trivializes the work of campaigns like Kick It Out," said the organization in its statement. "Shaking hands doesn't resonate with the zero-tolerance approach we encourage and certainly wouldn't resonate with the victim of the abuse. Leadership is needed to make headway, and comments like this don't help in the ultimate goal of kicking racism out football and making it a discrimination-free zone."

Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand was among many players outraged by the incident, which heaps even more pressure onto Blatter's troubled administration.

"I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism," Ferdinand wrote on Twitter. "It seems it was just on mute for a while. Just for clarity if a player abuses a referee, does a shake of the hand after the game wipe the slate clean?"

Ferdinand was so incensed that he sent a Twitter message directly to Blatter's handle, to voice his displeasure. "Sepp Blatter," he wrote. "Your comments on racism are so condescending, it's almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?"

While the storm of controversy raged, Blatter and FIFA attempted to mount an exercise in damage control and the 73-year-old Swiss released a statement defending himself.

"I would like to make it very clear: I am committed to the fight against racism and any type of discrimination in football and in society," Blatter said. "My comments have been misunderstood."

Given his history, though, not everyone will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Blatter's latest gaffe showcased once again why soccer needs someone new at its helm, someone free of the stain of corruption and sleaze, and who is not prone to ignorant, bigoted and insulting comments in a public forum.

But given the depth of his entrenchment at FIFA, and the governing body's complex internal machinations, the sad fact remains that Blatter will be in charge as long as he wants to be. Meanwhile, the game must suffer the frustration and shame of his outdated utterings.

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