Where the hell do you start on the entire mess that is FIFA? The corruption, the arrogance, the stupidity, the cronyism? There are so many issues that it’s too much to cover in one blog post. Plus a lot was covered in a previous post on this site So, I’ll take the position that you’re all intelligent football fans who pay attention and focus on the events leading up to and at the FIFA congress.
As a brief recap, two executive committee members were suspended for corruption by FIFA, while the former head of the English FA has accused four more executive committee of being corrupt, a claim being looked into by FIFA. Then over the weekend two FIFA vice presidents accused of buying votes in the upcoming presidential elections (including current president Sepp Blatter’s challenger, Mohammed Bin Hammam) and were suspended leaving Blatter unopposed in the election. In addition, a FIFA vice-president (Jerome Valcke) has accused Qatar of buying the 2022 World Cup.
The suspension of Bin Hammam feels dubious to say the least. Blatter has apparently emerged guilt free from the extremely swift investigation which distributed summary justice at a stroke rather than after a thoughtful consideration of the myriad accusations and complaints. These crude and obvious political machinations are reminiscent of a dodgy election in a former communist state in Central Asia rather than an election for the president of the global governing body for the world’s greatest sport.
In response to this affront to presenting even a vague sheen of democracy and transparency, the English FA proposed re-opening the elections to at least have a vote with more than one candidate on the ballot paper. Unfortunately this didn’t fly, and most of the morning was spent with increasingly minor FAs coming to the podium to shoot down the suggestion. As the morning dragged on we had to endure being lectured to by a representative of the Haitian FA (Haiti, trying to get all high and mighty about corruption!), cringeworthy proclamations and declarations of fealty to Blatter and insidious statements from Argentinian FA supremo Julio Grondona, who said that “we always have attacks from England, mostly with lies”. Can we remind ourselves that he said about the English world cup bid “let us be brief. If you give back the Falkland Islands, which belong to us, you will get my vote”. This is a man who once said “I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level. It’s hard work and, you know, Jews don’t like hard work”. Just so you can get an accurate gauge on the character of the man.
Now, I don’t see the English FA’s request as an unreasonable one. Open and challenging elections are healthy for any governing body. And when you’re being told to clean up your act by the English FA, themselves the subject of a parliamentary review to promote better governance and transparency, then you know you’re in a bad spot. One of the most depressing things from today is the way that Blatter and the ‘FIFA family’ have rounded up the toadies and lickspittles to go out and defend Blatter and attack the English FA (and the British press) for having the temerity to question the glorious leader and ask for, you know, a contested election. A contested election that Blatter was always likely to win, but has now walked through unopposed.
But what needs to be remembered is that these are not baseless accusations being bandied about. There are genuine charges to be answered. The cash-for-votes operation by the Sunday Times resulted in two executive committee members being suspended by FIFA itself. FIFA accepted there was serious wrongdoing. Lord Triesman, not the media, made the accusations against four executive committee members. Finally, the most serious, the scandal of cash for presidential votes bribery allegations against Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner came from within FIFA, from Caribbean football associations and Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer. FIFA announced ethics committee proceedings against them and have suspended them.
These are not smear tactics by low-brow British tabloids on a par with the Giggs super-injunction debacle, these are genuine, serious accusations backed with evidence that have led to actions being taken by FIFA, admissions of guilt and suspensions. Yet delegates have just spent the day talking as if this is some great conspiracy by a bitter British media.
Change needs to come to FIFA and it needs to come soon. The next 4 years are crucial, and reforms need to go further than the lukewarm sops announced by Blatter at today’s conference. Sponsors such as Adidas and Emirates have already voiced concerns on the reputational damage being done to the governing body of football. The English FA need to follow up this protest by becoming a beacon of good governance and transparency within the game, by showing that football can governed honestly and openly. And the British press should carry on doing what they’re doing; poking and prying, shining a light on the undergrowth and generally making it difficult for FIFA to be anything other than open.
But what really needs to happen is for the suits at FIFA to remember that it’s OUR game, not theirs.