Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mindless Blatter

The always voluble Sepp Blatter is at it again, musing to Swiss weekly Schweizer Illustrierte that "I'm wondering whether it makes sense to play the national anthems [before international soccer matches]. We should at least consider not playing them."

The speculation followed an unsportsmanlike showing by fans and players in the final qualifying match between Turkey and Switzerland. The Swiss secured their place in the Cup finals on away goals, but then fled from the field as projectiles rained down.

The teams tussled in the tunnel, with midfielder Johann Lonfat describing the confrontation in sensational terms: "Grichting received some blows. He was covered in blood. He went to hospital, shocked. We were attacked. It was unbelievable. This went beyond the limits of intimidation. I was told: 'We're going to slit your throat.'"

Turkey, who placed 3rd in Korea/Japan and are currently ranked 11th in the world, are the highest-ranked side to fail to qualify for Germany 2006. Regional rivals Greece, ranked 17th, are also staying home.

Sepp's blattering is hardly new. In recent months he's voiced his displeasure on topics as diverse as the transfer fees paid by Premier Division sides, and drugs in sport. But his conflation of fair play with fuzzy-headed internationalism can produce comical results. We can do without the hooliganism, but international football without national pride or rivalry would be a pastime without a purpose.

Perhaps more comical moments lie ahead. Will Sepp abolish national uniforms, in favour of a more friendly 'shirts and skins' rule? Will fans be randomly assigned teams to cheer, lest their passions become inflamed with nationalism?

Sepp's finest hour on this front remains Korea/Japan, where he surrounded the footballers with the 'youth of the world' before each match, then declared the students to be a sort of human shield against attack by international terrorists. What self-respecting terrorist would attack children, after all? It's the sort of reasoning only Blatter himself understands.


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