Talisman of the throw | FIFA searches for new moniker to proclaim Blatter’s reign

From top to bottom: (1) Blatter receives honorary degree from Lachezar Dimitrov, rector of the National Sports Academy, Sofia, Bulgaria, 15 Nov 05. (2) Blatter and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi get reacquainted, with UEFA President Lennart Johansson at rear, before the Champions League final, Manchester, England, 28 May 03. (3) Blatter has a go at the Allianz Arena, Munich, 9 Jun 05. (4) Blatter clowns at a press conference, Leipzig, Germany, 7 Dec 05. (AP Photos | Dimitar Deinov, Michael Sohn, Diether Endlicher, and Herbert Knosowski)

Zurich | Suits at FIFA, the governing body for the world game, apparently are a bit miffed at the license being taken with Joseph “Sepp” Blatter‘s honorific. Gliding unopposed into a third term as FIFA president, Blatter has on occasion been heralded in press reports as the FIFA “boss,” “supremo” or, sometimes, “kingpin.”

Fearing that such designations might create bias or a “negative image” among football supporters worldwide, FIFA—in a confidential memo that has been circulating around the Internet over the past couple of weeks—has started gathering opinion within the organization about pre-empting such media shorthand, viewed as disrespectful to the 71-year-old Swiss leader.

The memo, dated Mar 8, contains mainly confederation-generated feedback on several proposals—euphemistically called a “nomenclature revision”—to rechristen FIFA’s head with a more public relations–savvy title. Some of the name changes under consideration during a meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee on Mar 22–23 included “high priest,” “honourable helmsman,” “play-maker supreme” and, somewhat awkwardly, “beautiful man for the beautiful game.” A comment included in the memo suggests that the latter might be shortened to “BmBg.”

Few nongovernmental organizations, and certainly none in sport, carry influence comparable to that of FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, founded in France in 1904. Famously, the association boasts more members than the United Nations and, in 2001, was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the game it governs. The organization announced turnover of $1.64 billion during the most recent World Cup cycle, pocketing $144 million in profit.

Naturally, political maneuvering at the upper levels creates an intricate, yet always inscrutable, network of patronage and influence peddling that Blatter has navigated masterfully since gaining the presidency over fierce opposition in 1998. Blatter had to survive accusations of financial mismanagement, the collapse of FIFA’s main marketing partner and the public desertion of the organization’s general secretary to secure reelection at the 2002 World Cup. Now, Blatter in press statements has been reveling in the absence of a challenger when he again seeks the top job at the 57th Ordinary FIFA Congress in May. With a deadline of Apr 1, no challenger has come forward.

In the confidential FIFA memo, one comment wonders whether “play-maker supreme” as Blatter’s new title might draw uncomfortable comparison with newly installed UEFA president Michel Platini. “Are we saying that J S is a better footballer than MP [Platini]?”

Page 1 of 3 | Next page

Link to PDF file