China opens €23m shrine to disgraced Fifa president Sepp Blatter
Published 23/12/2015 | 11:58
"I'll be back," declared a defiant Sepp Blatter after he was banned from football for eight years - and they are certainly hoping so in China, where a €23m museum decked with his images, words and even his statue is due to open next month.
The disgraced Fifa president has been engaged in a love affair with China since he declared the country the true birthplace of football in 2000 - and the enormous National Football Museum in Linzi, in the eastern Shandong province, is a shrine to that relationship.
The official logo of the museum - emblazoned at the entrance and along the side of the giant two-storey building - is reassuringly sealed with Blatter's signature.
And the first room, among 11,700 square metres of exhibits charting China’s version of how the game progressed through thousands of years, is dedicated to Blatter and other suited football dignitaries.
Pride of place in the room, among pictures of the Swiss beaming with Chinese sports officials, is a comment he made at a press conference not long after the start of his 17-year tenure as the head of Fifa declaring that "football originated in China".
He is quoted again nearby confirming that the modern game evolved from Cuju - an ancient Chinese sport which originated in Linzi and involves keeping a leather ball stuffed with feathers off the ground without using arms or hands, before heading or kicking it though a hole above head height.
And, just in case anyone is missing the theme here, also included under a huge display titled "Confirmation of the Original Place of Football" is reference to Blatter handing over a certificate to Linzi confirming it as the "original place of football" and thanking the town for "creating football for the world".
The modern game was born when Football Association rules, drawing on a public school mob game, were written by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in England in 1863, and have since changed very little.
Many historians outside of China - and particularly in England - consider any idea of a link between the various ancient forms of ball-kicking games with modern football as absurd. But at China's Football Museum, a neat map shows how football was neatly passed - tikitaka style - from Linzi to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and then on to France, before Victorian Britain polished the game for the masses. Blatter's signature does not appear on that, but he reappears at the museum in another room which is, predictably, dedicated to Fifa.
A dark bust of a confident, younger, slightly grinning Blatter stands guard at the entrance of a display charting Fifa's proud history, with the other seven presidents of Fifa also getting their own sculpture.
“Fifa achieved great success on business development" under Blatter's stewardship, the display declares.
China, which is ranked 84th in the world by Fifa and has only ever appeared at one World Cup where it lost all its games, is clearly hoping for a slice of that, and is grateful to Blatter for his support.
England’s role in the development of football does get a mention. Within eyeshot of the ersatz-bronze Blatter is a brightly-coloured mock Dickensian street, charting how the rules of the game were drawn up, and the development of the Football League.
“Blatter's fondness for China was, as we know, expeditious,” said Ellis Cashmere, whose book Football's Dark Side explores corruption in the game.
“He saw it as the largest and fastest growing economy - football's final frontier, so to speak. So he did his best to curry favour.
“Maybe China remains grateful for his efforts to promote the game among Chinese.”
Read more here:
- 'Sepp Blatter won't go quietly, but this is the end of the road for disgraced Fifa chief'
- 'Deluded!' - Gary Lineker joins chorus of condemnation for Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini
Much in the museum appears part of an audacious one-two between Blatter-adulation and Chinese historical mischief-making: a picture of fighting hooligans appears under a display titled the “Rise and Fall of English Football".
The newly-built Chinese monument to football - which officials had previously hoped would be opened by Pele - is a replacement for a decaying old museum located nearby, and many of the exhibits have been transferred to the new location.
But the logo, which includes Blatter's signature, the displays containing his quotes, and the busts were created over the last few months, as the 71-year-old became engulfed in controversy after controversy.