Some acronyms have a life of their own. Often they're the ones that you can say as a word, rather than a series of letters: Nasa rather than the UN. Yet not many acronyms have the power to elicit operatic snorts of derision. Acronyms are normally bland, technocratic, deadened. And then there's Fifa.

In the past year or two, I don't think I've heard the name "Fifa" spoken without an accompanying parade of eye-rolling, head-shaking and elaborate snorting. It's a shame the word doesn't start with a plosive consonant - Pifa, say - as that would make it easier to spit out with contempt. But it stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, so we're stuck with Fifa, which sounds more like a cute name for a Labradoodle.

If you hate football, and have no interest in the supranational organisation of the game (what a strange, inward-looking person you must be), you might not know why Fifa has become a byword for sharp practice, farce and sexism. Quick explanation: Sepp Blatter. The body's president is a 75-year-old from Switzerland whose many qualifications for the role include a stint as president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders, a campaign group that formed to protest against women swapping stockings and suspender belts for tights. This is a man who has suggested that women footballers should wear "more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball", who said with characteristic elegance that Fifa contains "no rotten eggs" and whose attitude to goal-line technology is primordial at best.

In recent days he has strutted into the debate over racism in football, offering the bravely revisionist view that a "handshake" after the match would sort all the fuss out. Everyone from Rio Ferdinand to David Cameron snorted in response. With the inching speed of a medieval monarch, Blatter amended his remarks, claiming he had been "misunderstood". Aren't we all, Sepp, aren't we all.

Still, perhaps I am being too harsh. This is a man, after all, whose catchy motto about the sport is also a philosophy, according to "Football for all, all for football." Watch out, Descartes, you've got competition.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 28 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the muslim brotherhood

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.