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

Blatter—named one of Time‘s top “Builders and Titans” in a 2004 survey—told Reuters in an interview earlier this month, “They didn’t want me in 1998, then they tried to kill me in 2002 and now they bring me the presidency on a platter, so that is also a kind of recognition and satisfaction” (Mark Ledsom, “Blatter Sets Stall for Unchallenged Third Term,” Mar 23). The change in job title, which would take effect following the FIFA Congress, apparently fits in with this consolidation of power. The internal FIFA communication suggests that Blatter and his allies in a magnificent new “zero-emission building” that blends into Swiss forest on Zurich’s FIFA-Strasse have been scrutinizing negative media coverage over time and, in particular, the casual attitude that the world press assumes toward Blatter’s title as “president”:

The Office of the President, having conducted review of media accounts from 01 Jan 06 through 2006 Fifa World Cup™ suggests necessity of change in address, internally and in all external communication, from “Fifa President J S Blatter” to titular nomenclature less subject to media manipulation. Counts of print and web based usage reflect preference for terms of bias or those creating negative image in reader (examples, “supremo,”“honcho,” “boss,”“capo”&c.).

The memo itself does not detail internal FIFA counts of the somewhat derogatory allusions. A simple Google search, however, does yield references to Blatter that might rankle insiders. An Associated Press story following the 2006 World Cup final, for example, carried the lede: “World soccer supremo Sepp Blatter apologized to Italy on Monday for not awarding the team with the World Cup trophy in 2006.” The World Cup Blog wrote recently, in reference to Blatter’s statements on siting the 2018 World Cup, “Every couple of weeks FIFA head honcho Sepp Blatter crawls out of his undisclosed cave to give his thoughts on the world’s game.”

Blatter’s name also has caused trouble, punned upon to embarrassment following some of the FIFA president’s ad-libs. In the wake of Blatter’s 2004 statement that female players might consider “tighter shorts … like they [wear] in volleyball,” headline writers had a frenzy, gleefully transmitting story toppers such as “Blatter-Mouth Sepp Puts His Foot in It” and “Brief Loss of Blatter Control.”

Whether a simple change in referent can alter Blatter’s media-relations woes seems to occasion skepticism even within FIFA’s confidential document. Anonymous commenters fear offending FIFA constituencies with some of the suggested titles. Calling Blatter “soccer sultan,” writes one, risks putting off the England FA by showing preference for the game’s diminutive name; more seriously, one confederation representative asks if Blatter as “high priest of football” might leave out “non-Christians, Jews, Islam &c.? Have we checked with Vatican? Would we say, ‘leader of the Fifa caliphate’?” A proposal that Blatter might be referred to as “roundness in chief” elicits the shocked remark, “Is this for real?”

For Blatter’s entrenched critics, such as those who jumped ship following the management debacles surrounding the 2002 World Cup finals, these additional signals of closed-door posturing over superficialities are likely to prompt additional digs. Within the cottage industry of journalist-critics that has arisen to help make Blatter’s presidency a long exercise in score settling, the latest revelations will sound like business as usual. Andrew Jennings, a reporter who has made investigation of FIFA his life’s work in books such as Foul! The Secret World of FIFA (HarperSport, 2006), leads his website “Transparency in Sport” with regular updates on the organization’s indiscretions. The latest concerns the fallout from FIFA vice-president Jack Warner‘s 2006 World Cup ticket racket.

Even more measured critics such as David Goldblatt, author of The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football (Viking, 2006), cannot resist blasts at the Blatter regime:

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