‘What I am most proud of is the legacy of hope that FIFA and football leaves around the world. It makes all of the efforts and energy I pour into this job worth it’, Sepp Blatter
‘All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely’, Lord Acton
How much is a vote worth? A peerage, a knighthood, a Rolex watch or all of the above? These, and other, questions of governance, bribery, and politics have cropped up again in the ongoing soap-opera that is FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations). Football’s governing body is dragging itself and the game through the mud and, predictably, money is the root of it all. The unregulated power that the organisation’s delegates have in deciding who will host the quadrennial World Cup allows for massive bribery opportunities. Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s current Don Corleone, looks, at time of writing, like he’s seen off any meaningful corruption investigation. This show, unfortunately, goes on and on; football’s no longer the People’s Game.
Of course, both Ireland and England have grounds for believing that FIFA can not be reformed. Ireland were denied an obvious replay after the infamous handball incident against the French while England were outplayed and outspent (possibly corruptly) in their attempt to become host for the 2018 tournament. The 2022 event is scheduled for Qatar, a boiling patch of desert with no football tradition where the promised air conditioning technology hasn’t even been invented yet; this was, by any reasoning, a bizarre decision; now (confirming most people’s suspicions), it’s alleged to have been a corrupt one. Corruption and football have become, sadly, synonymous.
Millions are funnelled through FIFA’s annual accounts; very little of this is of this largesse is properly accounted for. David Yallop’s ‘How they Stole the Game’ was written about this creative accounting endemic to João Havelenge’s previous regime; there have been few changes since the book’s publication more than ten years ago. If anything, the last decade have seen even more multiples of cash sloshing round the higher echelons of the game. FIFA essentially gets sovereign states to subjugate themselves every four years for the honour of hosting a loss-making (but not for FIFA) World Cup. Football can do a lot better.
Yes FIFA can run tournaments effectively; but they organise them under FIFA’s laws and to FIFA’s benefit; their ‘Fairplay’ mascot seems like a bad joke when compared to tales of gold watches, cash bribes and other venal demands. The South African World Cup attracted millions of viewers and still had the pulling power to stop events in an afternoon and bring joyous scenes across the globe. But it was still run by ‘the man’ – a greedy, bloated and discredited figure that has an insatiable demand for cash.
European nations need to take the lead and act in concert to either threaten to leave FIFA or actually resign and start up a new governing body for world football. Greed is so much at the heart of the modern game that national football associations may not be able to see that it’s in their own financial and political interests to no longer tolerate the status quo. Solidarity in sport has never been more important.
Football has an incredible power to bring people together and needs to be organised fairly and effectively on an international basis. Sepp Blatter, as a symbol of all that is wrong in the sport, must go, but FIFA can no longer be fixed. It needs to be broken up and replaced so the so the beautiful game can be beautiful again. We need to put Football First.