The Ballon d'Or ceremony took place on Monday to honor the best plays and players in the world of soccer. The awards went by without much surprise: Lionel Messi took home a record fourth Player of the Year award, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest players to grace the pitch. USWNT coach Pia Sundhage earned the Women's Coach of the Year, and Abby Wambach won the Women's Player of the Year, among other awards given.
The only person likely disappointed or confused by the men's award was Cristiano Rolando, who constantly seems irked that the little Argentine, Messi, keeps winning, smiling, and taking home awards instead of him. The third nominee for the award, Andres Iniesta, while deserving, has spent so much time in Messi's shadow that he's probably used to the cool weather. Such is life at Barcelona and in Spain, exemplified perfectly by the 2012 FIFA World XII, which featured players exclusively from Barcelona and Real Madrid, save Falcao of Atletico Madrid.
The one eyebrow raising moment – aside from the elder, chubbier Ronaldo kissing the 2014 World Cup mascot – came during FIFA President Sepp Blatter's introductory speech.
Blatter began speaking about discipline in soccer and sport, describing what champions are made of, specifically discussing the ability to lose gracefully. He then spoke about making and learning from mistakes, noting he, too, makes mistakes. Blatter proceeded to invite anyone who hadn't made a mistake to please stand. No one, obviously, stood, but the irony was not lost on the fact that he was the lone person standing in the room while giving the speech. Then, Blatter approached racism.
He tip-toed down the path by describing the beauty of soccer off the pitch.
“What football is doing, and this is so important, is the ability to bring people together with the passion they share across all borders,” Blatter said. He continued by talking about the incident in which Kevin Prince Boateng walked off the pitch during the middle of an exhibition match while being subjected to repeated racist chants in Italy.
“An incident that has happened two days ago. If a player walks off the pitch because he has been racially abused, just as the AC Milan player Kevin Prince Boateng recently did, it is a strong and courageous signal, a way that he is saying, this has gone too far, and it is not to go further. That is praiseworthy. But it cannot be the solution in the long term. We have to find other sustainable solutions to tackle the problem of racism and discrimination at its root. Otherwise, such stands will be made in isolation, and lost in the hate of the general polemic, and, as I said, football must not separate people, football must bring people together.”
Blatter's words in this context are on-point, and could be taken with far more aplomb if they didn't contradict almost everything else he has ever said on the subject.
Among his worst, Blatter said racism could be cured with a handshake, continuously alienates soccer in America, and even condemned Boateng's actions earlier this week, noting, “I don't think you can run away.” This aligns with UEFA's ruling this summer that said players would be given a yellow card were they to walk off the pitch during racial abuse during Euro 2012.
Blatter has been a continuous thorn in the side of modern-day soccer fans with his almost blatant intent to keep the game in the previous century. Aside from his inability to confront racism in the game, he was also the last person on earth to support goal line technology, a matter of extreme importance given every goal's weight on a match and, subsequently, tournament.
His claim to glory is bringing third-world countries into the fold – which he also spoke about during his speech, specifically announcing his pride that soccer is currently being played in Syria, another off-the-wall comment distracting from what Syria should be in the news for – which was almost assuredly accomplished via nefarious means.
But the game is as popular as ever, making more money than ever, and Sepp Blatter is overseeing it all, largely unopposed, other than a brief presidential run from Mohamed Bin Hammam, which ended amid a bribery scandal, and a valiant effort of then-Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl. Blatter has, however, promised to step down in 2015.
Until then, soccer fans will either have to stay patient, or hope research in hair regrowth technology continues to improve during the rest of Blatter's head-scratching reign.