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This Weak With David Roth: Sepp Blatter And The Giant Meatball

This week belonged to the craven, unshameable power lords of FIFA, some of whom might be going to jail. They will be missed, of course. And probably replaced.

David Roth

Photo by Franz Pammer/GEPA via USA TODAY Sports

Here is the story as it was told to me. A woman, a friend of a friend, is working in a high-end Italian restaurant when word arrives that George Lucas is in a private dining room. She is told that she will be bringing him—the George Lucas, the celebrated boomer mystic, filmmaker, and biological father of Jar-Jar Binks—a special order, which the chef has prepared for him before. She picks it up in the kitchen and finds that it is a meatball. One tremendous meatball, the size and shape of a rain-swollen softball, on a plate. She brings it to Lucas, who does not acknowledge her. She returns, later, to retrieve a now-empty plate.

This story is almost certainly not true. I don't even remember who told it to me, or misremembered it—the person I thought had done so could not confirm that he had done so. Also this just does not really seem likely, right down to the fact that it's difficult to imagine Lucas leaving his Marin County aerie for any reason. He has people to bring him whatever he requires—expensive bordeaux, pharmaceutical-grade Just For Men products, whatever. If indeed George Lucas makes a habit of feasting on 40-odd ounces of formed meat come dinnertime, he'll just have his chef prepare it for him. I want to be clear about this, and be clear that I am in no way writing this because someone from legal has instructed me to do so: I do not believe that George Lucas ate a giant meatball, by himself, in a private room, let alone made a habit of the practice.

And yet there is something plausible about the story. Yes, it is a little difficult to imagine George Lucas devouring a two-pound meatball, in a silent room off a popular restaurant. But also there are some people that it is just easier to believe things about than others.

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It is unfair to George Lucas to compare him to Sepp Blatter, the elfin kleptocrat who stepped down as the maximum leader of FIFA this week in response to the scandal that engulfed the organization, and which might send some of its less careful bribe-milking sub-chieftains to jail. (The comparison is unfair to Sepp Blatter, too, who looks more like a darkest-timeline version of circa-now Phil Collins—a less responsible Phil Collins who had replaced yoga in his life with foie gras and graft—than he does Lucas.) But Blatter himself, and FIFA as an organization, is squarely within the George Lucas Eating A Giant Meatball category. There is nothing that could be said about Blatter or FIFA that could not be believed; there is no accusation so craven as to seem impossible.

And so it has been this week, not just day by day, but moment by moment, that FIFA and its clan of ruling clowns has shrunk the distance between the most baroque corruptions we could imagine and actual proven instances of just that. Officious letters from one FIFA chieftain appointing another as the fiduciary of what amounted to a massive bribe? Yes. Bribing national officials to buy their silence after a moderately shady officiating fuck-up? Absolutely. A disgraced FIFA chief—the "fiduciary" of that $10 million transfer—thundering like Immortan Joe about his impending vengeance and citing The Onion as proof of the conspiracy against him? You already know, baby. The under-sourced accusations of rampant sex creepery against Blatter himself that surfaced on Friday seem almost insufficient.

When you see your main dude and you know that you are literally a cartoon of an unaccountable despot. — Photo by Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

Again and again, FIFA has opened up the limit, blasted through one ceiling after another, and consistently defied even the most enthusiastic cynic's assessment of how craven, clueless, and without shame an organization could be. In this context, the fact that the week ended with the release of an unwatchable $30 million feature film that FIFA made about itself—with Blatter himself reportedly doing a great deal of uncredited script doctoring—seems almost like showboating. The point is made, but FIFA's zombie reflexes can't stop firing.

You do not need to care overmuch about international soccer to be saddened by the grandiose venality revealed in FIFA's rapid public collapse or heartened by the possibility that some of the most artless and obvious shitlords in international sports may actually be called to account for their crimes. We are, as the week closes, in a disorienting in-between space. Our suspicions have been confirmed about how cynical, plunderous, and plain dumb these plump ghouls really were; this is... not really all that satisfying, honestly, although it's nice to be right. But it's tough even to hope, in the lurid light of this new context, that things could somehow be otherwise at an institution that has, for a generation and more, been defined by its giddy and unabashed corruptibility. Imagining a new FIFA that functions more like a nonprofit and less like a transnational criminal enterprise dedicated to the enrichment of pudgy Belgians is difficult, precisely because it's so difficult to recall when it was last anything but that.

This is not unique to FIFA, or even to the tranche of international sports organizations—the IOC is another titan of this field—that have been spun into empires of graft by a class of unassuming-looking europudding brigands. Even where power is checked by democracy, it is only checked to the extent that anyone can bestir themselves to know or care or notice what's happening, and act on holding the powerful to some kind of account; enough years of not doing this allows for a dangerous sort of drift. In time, even the abhorrent things we could theoretically change seem abstracted. The corruptions that result press down on us in a very real way, but also come to feel like weather—inevitable, outside us, impossible to discuss in anything but the most defeated way. This is a heavy, familiar feeling, and while it is easy to laugh at the idiocy of Jack Warner or Sepp Blatter's pairing of world-historic vanity and stubby-fingered greed, it is impossible to do so without some other, heavy associations.

But it is easier to do this on a Friday, and easier to do this Friday than it was last Friday, when Blatter was re-elected as FIFA's leader and a rotten and plainly untenable status quo seemed likely to stretch even further into the future. FIFA has the good fortune of being able to dispense the world's most popular game as a pacifying narcotic, and the even greater fortune of being operationally unaccountable—to anyone at all, it plainly believed, although the Department of Justice is working on that. More than that, though, there is the sense, not just that these dopey villains are no longer untouchable, but that people are paying attention, that it might be harder to go back to business as FIFA had done it before. It doesn't mean that anything will change about the World Cups scheduled for the ethical sinkholes of Russia and Qatar, necessarily, or that FIFA will somehow be healthy after excising this batch of goiters. But it is easier than ever to imagine a future that looks and feels and is different than the past and the present. This is not quite progress, yet. It might just be Friday. But it feels different, and that feels like a start.