Pla­tini’s UEFA and Blat­ter’s FIFA: soc­cer world’s squab­bling lovers

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY TIM WITCHER

Can’t live with each other, can’t live with out each other: the tan­gled re­la­tion­ship be­tween Sepp Blat­ter’s FIFA and Michel Pla­tini’s UEFA reached a new low with the cor­rup­tion storm that hit soc­cer’s world body.

But while Blat­ter, who con­trols the World Cup, and Pla­tini, with the Cham­pi­ons League, may be at dag­gers drawn, they each know they can­not af­ford a costly di­vorce.

Pla­tini told Blat­ter to re­sign the day af­ter Swiss po­lice ar­rested seven FIFA of­fi­cials in Zurich ac­cused by U.S. au­thor­i­ties of tak­ing tens of mil­lions of U.S. dol­lars in bribes. The French soc­cer leg­end said he was “dis­gusted” at the tar­nish­ing of FIFA’s im­age.

On Satur­day, the day af­ter he won his fifth term as pres­i­dent of the world’s most pow­er­ful sport­ing fed­er­a­tion, Blat­ter said there was a “hate” cam­paign com­ing from UEFA and “a per­son” within it.

Next Satur­day, on the side­lines of the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in Ber­lin, the UEFA ex­ec­u­tive will “re­view its re­la­tions” with FIFA.

Some voices, such as Den­mark’s Al­lan Hansen, a mem­ber of the ex­ec­u­tive, say UEFA should with­draw from the world body.

Eng­land’s FIFA vice pres­i­dent David Gill has al­ready re­fused to serve un­der Blat­ter be­cause of the world body’s mul­ti­ple scan­dals.

Pla­tini says all op­tions will be con­sid­ered, but he op­poses a split with FIFA, call­ing it the “head- quar­ters” of soc­cer.

Blat­ter agreed. “FIFA needs UEFA, UEFA needs FIFA,” he told a press con­fer­ence Satur­day af­ter an ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing which his arch-ri­val at­tended.

Blat­ter chided the Euro­pean body for block­ing his ef­forts to in­tro­duce an “in­de­pen­dent ethics com­mis­sion,” which he said could have stopped rot­ten of­fi­cials get­ting onto the ex­ec­u­tive.

But the war stopped there and Europe kept its 13 places at the 2022 World Cup with­out a ma­jor fight at the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee. It had feared an at­tempt to see num­bers cut.

High Fi­nan­cial Stakes

The world soc­cer war is noth­ing new. But the fi­nan­cial stakes are grow­ing.

“It’s part of his­tory,” ac­cord­ing to Jerome Cham­pagne, a for­mer right-hand man of Blat­ter at FIFA who tried to stand against his ex­boss in the elec­tion.

Ever since con­tro­ver­sial Brazil­ian Joao Have­lange beat Eng­land Stan­ley Rous to the FIFA pres­i­dency in 1974 “UEFA has per­ma­nently — in 1998, 2002 and again in 2011 — tried to take power,” said Cham­pagne.

Europe, dom­i­nated by its cash rich ma­jor clubs in the Cham­pi­ons League, wants to re­strain FIFA’s power, ac­cord­ing to Cham­pagne.

“Be­hind the war of per­son­al­i­ties, it is a war of strate­gic vi­sions,” he added. “To­day foot­ball is be­com­ing like bas­ket­ball where there is only one league that mat­ters, the NBA.”

The ri­val soc­cer en­ter­prises are both huge earn­ers.

FIFA made US$5.7 bil­lion be­tween the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, much of which goes back to small fed­er­a­tions in Africa and Asia who backed Blat­ter this week.

It has a grip on the rules and reg­u­la­tions of the world’s most popular sport. But de­ci­sions from the award of World Cups to tele­vi­sion con­tracts have been sur­rounded by cor­rup­tion claims for many years.

UEFA pre­dicts bumper rev­enue of more than US$5 bil­lion for 2015-16 alone when it stages the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in France. Earn­ings from the Cham­pi­ons League are putting on healthy growth each year.

Its rep­u­ta­tion is clean. But many of the play­ers who shine for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Ju­ven­tus and Manch­ester United come from be­yond Europe how­ever. And that causes frus­tra­tion for coun­tries out­side.

Franz Beck­en­bauer, the Ger­man leg­end who was on the FIFA ex­ec­u­tive, says FIFA and UEFA need “ur­gent” talks or soc­cer ev­ery­where will suf­fer.

But with the U.S. cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion grow­ing and bit­ter­ness in Europe high, the squab­ble will not end soon.

“I for­give ev­ery­one, but I will not for­get,” Blat­ter said of his ties with Pla­tini.

Pla­tini could be ready to let the ten­sions run. He is said to be think­ing about a run for the FIFA pres­i­dency in four years time.

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