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Africa’s love fueled Blatter’s re-election

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Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter

LUSAKA, June 1- Among the reasons why Sepp Blatter clung onto the leadership of FIFA are the 700 footballs, a technical centre and the federation headquarters that the world governing body has funded in Zambia over recent years.

Blatter was easily re-elected last week thanks to votes from many African and Asian nations, despite an explosive corruption scandal over millions of dollars allegedly paid in bribes by countries eager to host the football World Cup.

Zambia, ranked 60th in football’s world rankings, is a typical beneficiary of FIFA’s Goal programme that has completed more than 1,000 projects around the globe since 1999, many of them in the developing world.

The facilities in Zambia may be badly maintained and little used, but for many African officials, they are evidence of Blatter’s ability to disperse riches where he chooses.

“For now, he is the preference of the people. For us, as Zambians, he has done a lot for us and this is not only here in Zambia but also in most parts of Africa,” Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) vice president Boniface Mwamelo told AFP.

“This is democracy and the people should accept the outcome of the election whether they like Blatter or not.”

Blatter is widely seen as personally responsible for the Goal programme, which gives money to smaller national federations for them to promote the game by building pitches, running training camps and setting up leagues.

On the Zambia page of the FIFA website, Blatter is pictured beside a man holding a hand-made sign reading: “Sepp Blatter: The only man that attends to African problems.”

“Even if we take away the negative things against him, he would still leave a legacy that he is the man that did much for Africa and Zambia is one of the beneficiaries of his good work,” Mwamelo said.

– Worth the vote? – 

The $800,000 (730,000 euro) National Technical Centre (NTC), in the capital Lusaka, has 23 bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen.

It is meant as a training camp for the “Copper Bullets” — as the national team is known — and an inspirational academy for Zambia’s footballing future, but it is dilapidated and seldom used.

“There is nothing here that should encourage Zambians or any African to vote for Blatter,” said Sylvester Mwale, an amateur player training at the sprawling Olympic Youth Development Centre where the FIFA-funded project is located.

“Look, if the national team is not playing, there is nothing that goes on at the centre. Occasionally, the association rents it out to a club that is visiting here.”

Another keen player, Meebelo Mooya, 13, who hopes to make the national women’s team one day, was wearing a red strip ready for a school-organised training session at the Olympic complex.

“The NTC is not much,” she said. “It is not worth giving him a vote.”

As well as the technical centre in Lusaka, FIFA also built the FAZ’s office headquarters in 2001 at a cost of $555,000, and donated 700 Adidas balls between 2003 and 2010.

The national team are far from a regional footballing powerhouse like Algeria or Ivory Coast, but they were shock winners of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, defeating hot favourites the Ivorians on penalties after a goalless final in Libreville.

For Peter Makembo, president of the Zambia Soccer Fans Association, teams like Zambia need to look beyond Blatter’s apparent munificence if they want to progress.

“Each time somebody thinks about FIFA here, the only name that comes to mind is Blatter,” said Makembo.

“He has done a lot for Africa and Zambia in particular, but we strongly feel that he has over-stayed in office.

“Even what he has done… things like the building of the FAZ offices and the technical centre are not things that should ensure he continues.”

Many ordinary Zambians agree.

“It’s too much,” said Fackson Sinkala, a taxi driver who works in the city’s central business district.

“He should have lost the vote — or better still not wanted to contest for another term.”

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