I was more grumpy than usual yesterday when news broke round the latest FIFA corruption scandal, culminating in the arrests of some high ranking officials on charges of corruption, specifically around the taking of substantial sums of money by way of bribes in return for favours such as awarding the staging of a world cup to particular countries. Given there was sufficient evidence to warrant those arrests, it came as no surprise as suspicions have been raised and signs have been seen that this was the case for a long time now, although the nature and timing of the arrests few expected and neither were the instigators – the USA government.
I found the statement made by FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, not only disappointing but also hypocritical given he neither accepted any personal blame and linked FIFA’s shame and humiliation with that of football itself. While I cannot claim to have anything other than a superficial knowledge of what goes on in FIFA, and I have no doubt Blatter is a formidable character to have been in his position for so long, I have to admit to an unease he remains at the helm and at the prediction he will be returned when the matter is voted on later today. Football remains the beautiful game and one more than any other unites people from all over the world given it is played in every corner of the globe and has invariably been a point of contact with all sorts of people when on my travels. When played in the right spirit, it brings so many added benefits, such as developing physical skills, teamwork, fair play and character building. The tragedy is that FIFA, the game’s world governing body, which rule over all other governing bodies, is corrupt to the core and one wonders how much corruption there is that has not yet been unearthed.
While there is much about the way the USA conducts itself on the world stage that makes me feel uneasy, I have to give it credit for pursuing these investigations when others, sometimes better placed, have failed to do so. My only irritant is when making statements it insists on calling the game “soccer”. I am no international lawyer and can imagine that given crimes have been carried out over several jurisdictions how difficult it might be to charge wrong doers. This is the point alluded to by Russian President Putin, who did himself no favours in condemning the USA’s actions and giving unreserved support to Sepp Blatter. But it seems that hypocrisy is the name of the game and doing the right and equitable thing features low on many lists of priorities, evidenced by the support Blatter still commands, especially among the less developed nations, which itself ought to teach us something about fairness.
Whatever one feels about Blatter’s tenure in charge of FIFA, he has manged to attract large amounts of money through commercial sponsorship and some of it at least has gone toward supporting football development in poorer nations, and partly explains his popularity. As far as those countries go, for many, corruption is rife so the fact it occurs in FIFA is not such a big deal. While the more developed western block of nations may tut tut and bemoan Blatter, they have done little to give up power and privilege to help their less well off brethren who, no wonder, are so supportive of Blatter. Yet my main criticism remains, and that aside from megalomania and other criticisms I often hear. Blatter just doesn’t seem to get it and this in spite of expressing regrets at the latest corruption scandals. He may well object to an outside body taking the interest it has in FIFA matters, but the fact remained he did little about it when concerns were raised and is showing little sign he will do much now.
One of the postings on my Facebook page today had the title: “FIFA have turned the beautiful game ugly, so let’s rescue it”, coming from a football supporter perspective and making many of the arguments I would want to make or would agree with. In my mind there was a sense of déjà vu when it comes to allegations of corruption, and checking out my previous postings, I found something I had posted shortly following last year’s World Cup. My concluding remarks were: “I hope those responsible for football in this country will have the moral courage to do what is needed, even if this may mean we don’t enter the World Cup if demands aren’t met and it leading to an, at least temporary, split in world football”. Unsurprisingly, “those responsible” appear to have done ****** all and I am not holding my breath, despite the latest revelations. I had heard that a big named sponsor may be withdrawing its support as a result but unless there were a concerted action with other sponsors I fear things will continue much the same as before. In a similar vein, there seems to have been little sign among FIFA’s membership that might lead us to expect change.
Sadly, what we are seeing in the world of FIFA is symptomatic with what is going on in the world at large. But we can and must speak out, irrespective of how others would react, since ridding the higher echelons of the game of corruption has to be a good thing. Not just to rescue the beautiful game from the bad people who administer it, but to ensure that the rich pickings from commercial sponsorship do not end up in the pockets of the corrupt but rather are used to develop the game in the poorer parts of the world. I live in hope!
Stop Press: The vote has been made and Sepp Blatter has been reappointed to serve as FIFA president for a further term. Sadly, if the latest report is anything to go by, the man remains unrepentant.