Soccer fans may know Jerome Valcke
as the master of ceremonies at televised FIFA events such as the World Cup draw. But the Frenchman, suspended from his duties
as FIFA secretary general last week amid allegations of involvement in
schemes to sell tickets
above face value at World Cup events, was responsible for its day-to-day business affairs.
Valcke's job, simply put, was to make the trains run on time.
His primary job was to make sure the World Cup -- FIFA's crown jewel and biggest revenue-producer -- ran well. (In that regard, he was always a big and public supporter of the World Cup
returning to the USA.) More generally, he also was responsible for keeping the money flowing in. That meant keeping FIFA's sponsors were happy, so he had to spend a lot of time in recent months trying
to placate them in the aftermath of the indictment of 14 soccer and sports marketing officials by Federal authorities. (Wonder what the sponsors are thinking now?)
Valcke's role has been
that of FIFA's bad cop in contrast to the role of his former boss, Sepp Blatter
, as the good cop. Frustrated with the lack of preparedness with the 2014 World
Cup, he famously said in 2012 that Brazilian organizers needed a kick up the backside, prompting the Brazilian government to declare him persona non grata and unwelcome to visit Brazil for talks on
the tournament until he apologized. Valcke apologized, saying he only meant to say organizers needed to "speed things up" and blaming the translation from French to Portuguese for the
Valcke's suspension last week was met with rejoicing in Brazil. "Now it's the turn of this loudmouth to take a kick up the backside," said Brazilian star-turned-politician Romario
. "We put up with his arrogant
manner even though I protested on a number of occasions that the government should take a stand and refuse to accept him as go-between."
Valcke's frustration with Brazilian organizers
didn't keep him quiet as a year after his kick-up-the-backside remarks he complained that too much democracy was a hindrance when it came to FIFA organizing a World Cup.
"I will say
something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup," he said at a World Cup symposium, pointing out that working with a powerful head of state like Russia's
was a lot easier than in a country where there were multiple levels of government regulation.
Valcke got his wish as the 2018 World
Cup is headed to Putin's Russia. He was again master of ceremonies at this summer's World Cup qualifying draw in St. Petersburg and was headed to Moscow for ceremonies marking the 1000th day before
the 2018 World Cup starts last Thursday when his plane was ordered back to Zurich in mid-flight. Putin was silent about Valcke's downfall but he was happy to report that there was no need for
''Russia always approaches events like [the World Cup] in a responsible way in terms of hosting and organization," Putin in a video presented at the countdown ceremonies. "The
preparations for the World Cup in 11 cities of our country who have the honor to host the championships are in full swing.''
Russia the responsible one? There's lots to be concerned about
a Russia World Cup, from cutbacks in facilities and infrastructure due to the country's ongoing economic crisis to the country's horrible record on many social issues.
Timed with the
1000-day countdown, Russian organizers rolled out international ambassador Alexei Smertin
, the former national team captain, who had the gall to suggest
, "There's no racism in Russia because it does not exist." (For the
record, there have been more than 100 incidents of racist and discriminatory behavior linked to Russian soccer over two seasons.)
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko
, who is also a member of the FIFA executive committee, praised Valcke as a ''very professional person'' but suggested that his departure was less important since
preparations for the World Cup were going along smoothly.
FIFA is indeed a real mess if Putin's Russia is suddenly viewed as the responsible party and if it doesn't need someone like
Valcke looking over its shoulder and making sure the trains run on time.