England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has joined others in calling for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to resign following his remarks on racism.
In two TV interviews Blatter said that racist incidents between footballers could be settled with a handshake at the end of the match.
The head of the players’ union Gordon Taylor, speaking on the BBC Today programme, this morning joined the call for Blatter to go.
In condemning Blatter, Rio seized upon a two-year-old photograph published on the FIFA website above a statement claiming that Blatter’s remarks had been misconstrued. The photo showed Blatter standing next to a black South African government minister.
In a tweet, Rio accused FIFA of trying to clear up Blatter’s comments “with a pic of him posing with a black man”.
Even by FIFA’s standards this has been a PR disaster – in fact, if the issue were not so serious, it would be worthy of a TV sitcom.
You can just imagine the episode. There they are – the FIFA comms team – watching the wide-screen telly in FA headquarters – eagerly awaiting their boss’s interview. Up he pops with his comments on racism. Heads are slowly buried in hands as the thought goes through their collective mind: “What’s he gone and said this time? How the hell do we get out of this one?”
The team immediately resort to a favourite defence of organisations that are landed with a PR calamity like this, namely that the comments in question were “misunderstood” or “misinterpreted”, as though the global viewing public are to blame rather than the individual who made the comments in the first place.
Then, someone in the comms team has a bright idea: “Let’s find a picture of the president in a black setting – just to reinforce the point that he’s not racist.” The fact that this might appear crass or like tokenism to a lot of people clearly didn’t dawn upon them.
Worse still, the “black person” they chose to try to reinforce Blatter’s anti-racist credentials was Tokyo Sexwale who served thirteen years on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela in the fight against apartheid. I wonder if FIFA actually asked Sexwale for his permission to publish the photo alongside Blatter’s defence of his comments on race.
Speaking of TV sitcoms, FIFA’s damage-limitation exercise reminds me of that excruciating moment in the BBC series The Office when a team of new arrivals – “the Swindon lot” – take issue with David Brent, played by Ricky Gervais, over racist remarks he’d been making.
Brent calls the staff together to reject the accusations. He places himself next to a non-white member of staff (the only one) with whom he has the following exchange:
Brent: “You’re half-and-half aren’t you?”
Employee: “Yes, I’m mixed race.”
Brent: “That’s my favourite.”
In terms of awkwardness and putting-your-foot-in-it, I wonder if there’s much difference between David Brent and Sepp Blatter.
So, Ricky, how’s your Swiss accent?