Canada's soccer establishment rolled out the red carpet for Sepp Blatter on Friday.
Participating in the much-ballyhooed announcement of the 2015 Women's World Cup host cities (which were known well in advance) the FIFA president held court in the halls of Parliament, telling jokes, making grandiose promises, flattering his record and doing it all in both official languages.
If you hadn't known what was going on -- that Friday's press conference was a significant formalization of the World Cup that will take place in Canada three years from now -- you might have mistaken Blatter as a politician, and the event as a pompous post-election scrum.
Blatter, after all, likes to win elections. He's won four of them, and took the last one unopposed in 2011. Less than a month before his plane touched down in Ottawa he was the subject of a report by the Council of Europe that proposed an investigation into alleged corruption at FIFA -- a report that quite specifically pointed out that Blatter was in no way a character beyond suspicion.
It was ironic, then, and irritatingly predictable, that Blatter used much of his speech to promote the FIFA "value" of "fair play", falling back on his much-used platitude that soccer is a "school of life" and has a part to play in Canadian social development.
It probably does, but Blatter also revealed an embarrassing Canadian disconnect when he boasted that the Women's World Cup would be bigger than the recent Olympic Games.
Globally, perhaps; but not in this country. And that's not to take anything away from women's soccer. After all, the 2011 World Cup final between Japan and the United States was, at the time of airing, the second most-watched daytime program is US cable television history after the 2011 Rose Bowl. The TV numbers will be strong. But the greater Canadian public certainly isn't ready for Blatter's soccer-will-conquer-all style of arrogance.
Especially from him. Even in the women's game he claims to so admire the FIFA president is running a credibility deficit. In 2004 Blatter made headlines when he remarked that women's soccer would be more palatable if the ladies would play "in different and more feminine garb than the men; in tighter shorts, for example."
But Blatter wasn't the only politician to bask in the spotlight on Friday. Canadian Soccer Association president Dominic Maestracci, who is running for re-election in a vote whose results will be known today, also took his turn at the microphone in the lead-up to the announcement of the host cities.
Edmonton, Moncton, N.B., Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg were officially revealed in a video presentation, after which representatives of each city were treated to group hugs with Blatter and CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli.
For Winnipeg, this will likely mean a handful of group stage matches and perhaps a knockout game at Investors Group Field -- should it be ready in time, of course.
News and notes
-- Blatter made sure to make everyone aware of his friendship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- a smooth relationship, no doubt, given both men's approach to electioneering. Perhaps Harper will give Blatter some robo-call tips in time for the next FIFA vote.
-- The CSA has covered itself in glory yet again by changing its vote distribution for the presidential election -- a change that won't be revealed to the public until after voting is completed.
-- Toronto was a notable absentee from the host city list. Downtown Canada opted to not even throw its hat in the ring for the Women's World Cup due to its involvement in that colossal international sporting event -- the Pan Am Games.