When I was hardly able to read I was given an old copy of Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman.
The book comprises ten stories about children who misbehave and suffer the consequences of their actions in terrible ways - a girl burning to death after playing with matches, a thumb sucker whose thumbs are cut off by a tailor, a boy who dies when he refuses to eat his soup, and so on. For me they were the stuff of nightmares, particularly accompanied as they were by graphic and terrifying illustrations.
One of the moralistic tales was called Johnny head-in-Air: it is about a boy who has his head in the clouds so much he does not see where he is walking and one day steps into a big river. He is rescued, but loses all that is dear to him in the waters. When I heard today that Sepp Blatter is to be re-elected unopposed to the FIFA presidency I was reminded of the story, which I had not thought about for years.
The suspicions, accusations, rumours and actions that are swirling round football’s governing body are wonderful examples of how people at the top of powerful institutions can find themselves so seduced by wealth and sycophancy they forget what they are there to do and do not see the reality of the world they live in. They become separated from the people who directly or indirectly have enabled them to have the responsibility of their position and who trust them to do their job well on their behalf.
Despite the general condemnation of the election process at FIFA and the calls for the organisation to be replaced by a new system of football governance, Sepp Blatter and the colleagues who are supporting him in his re-election bid are refusing to acknowledge that there is outrage over a system seemingly riddled by corruption and an election which is farcical. Like Johnny Head-in-Air they are heading for rough waters and the possibility of losing everything.
It is no coincidence that it is football which has precipitated the present crisis, something dear to the heart of millions of people who are watching with dismay as the reputation of their beloved game and those who run it becomes ever more tarnished. More truth will emerge and it will not be edifying, but like Strewwelpeter it will teach much and will, undoubtedly, change attitudes and behaviour. While the story will leave painful memories, hopefully they will not be nightmares.