In previous years the image of FIFA in the media was one of predictability, laughable predictability. The World Cup would be awarded to a country somewhere in the world where they could make money – mainly from the hosting of the event; taking what should have been money much needed in the area for redevelopment and prosperity – look at the examples of the United States of America, South Africa, and to a degree, Brazil. They would host a FIFA Council in a FIFA House and demand that issues like politics did not interfere with football (rightly so, again, to a degree); no-one was allowed to question them; and they made strange and hard-hitting decisions – but as they were relatively minor (in comparison to now), the footballing world let them get on with ‘running football’ and ‘taking the game to the four corners of the world’, as the existence of FIFA allowed for the biggest footballing spectacle every four years, a decent computer game at least once and year, and to be honest, no-body took much notice of them as every country has their governing body as well as continental governing bodies such as UEFA. Little did we know that with every tournament, every hard-hitting penalty, they were becoming more and more unaccountable.
As a result of this we now find ourselves with a global governing body who makes whatever decision it likes, shows complete disregard for accountability and transparency, and does not care for the average football fan one bit. At the time when Russia were awarded the 2018 World Cup, racism was a well-known problem in the country, a problem which has only worsened in recent years – yet FIFA thought this an appropriate place to host a ‘world’ cup and invite fans from all walks of life and ethnicities to attend – nothing to do with the oligarchs common in the former Soviet state. The second decision made on the same day was to award the 2022 to Qatar – one of the hottest countries in the world, with no footballing background, instead of more sensible options of the USA, Japan, South Korea or Australia – yes Australia would be almost nearly as hot as Qatar, but there is a growing appetite for the game and they now regularly qualify for tournaments. Since the bid was awarded to Qatar I don’t think there has been one good news story released – workers have died during construction; workers are allegedly paid less than minimal wages to work on death-trap sites, and many are migrants from poor surrounding countries. But Qatar and its oil reserves is one of the richest and most prosperous countries in the modern world. And if one organisation likes money, it’s FIFA – perhaps even more than football.
However, this time, FIFA have angered one of the games superpowers – England. An England, who at a time of recession, dipped in to its pockets to fund a bid for the 2018 World Cup. The got David Beckham involved and even rolled out royalty to try win the votes. More effort still – they took the time and effort to research and approach voting members to try win their vote. How transparent this was done is debateable – but hey, this is FIFA, anything goes! So when the votes were counted, England, a country with a recognised infrastructure of 40,000 plus stadium, motorways and airports already built and running fine, no history of continuous horrific racism in the game, a country which had not hosted the World Cup since 1966, or a major tournament (the Euros) since 1996, England got a measly 2, and didn’t even make it to the second round of voting. But this is our game. We invented football, how dare FIFA give it to another country! And rightly so there was outrage – not only from England, but from other reputable nations. So a report was commissioned to look in to the voting process and to identify or dispel any potential voices of corruption in the process.
The result, delivered this week, by FIFA, identified that no wrong doing had been undertaken, and the results would stand, as nothing had been done wrong by the winning parties, or by FIFA themselves. The only problem being, that the individual who investigated the issue, wrote the report, and handed it over to FIFA, says what FIFA have surmised is not representative of what he wrote in his report. To many countries around the world, foul play was cried again, with fears that FIFA have ignored the report and delivered the verdict they wanted. Angered further by the FIFA summary of the report, and then the concern raised by its author, England once again asked the question of the transparency of FIFA and requested the report be made available in public. FIFA almost instantaneously denied that this was possible, quoting this would be against Swiss law, the home of FIFA, and that as FIFA was an organisation and not a government, they did not have to disclose the details; further still, disclosure would require the consent of all referenced in the report, and this would be impossible. This seems very nice of FIFA to protect its sources; they were not so quick to protect the identity of the whistle-blowers of the Qatar 2022 bid – her evidence of alleged corruption was given on condition of anonymity, however it appears this was breached in a summary of the report. She now lives her life in fear and has to constantly watch her back due to the potential harm she could’ve caused the Qatari bid.
So to put this in to perspective: FIFA held a vote for the two World Cups; Russia and Qatar won; around the same time a number of FIFA officials were removed from their posts due to potential issues around corruption (the likes of Jack Warner et al); the world got a bit twitchy about the winning bids and the reasoning behind them winning; FIFA decided to prove once and for all their innocence, they would hire an ethics investigator (they would pay his salary); he in turn produced a report which on the surface appears to deny any wrong-doing, but then questioned whether FIFA had actually read and processed the findings correctly; upon intense scrutiny from many of the leading nations in world football, stated outright that there could be no further investigation or publishing of the report – in effect, although they had been cleared of wrong-doing, they completely slammed the door on any further questioning, washed their hands of the matter.
What this shows is that FIFA think they are bigger than any country in world football; more important than any of the players; above the ethics and transparency required to run a multi-million pound organisation; and perhaps most worryingly, they don’t give a dam about the supporters. Those people who start watching and playing football at an early age with a dream of one day lifting the World Cup above their heads. Yes – they may still lift the world cup, but in tainted surroundings.
If the government of any country in the world acted the FIFA do with allegations of corruption, and then the investigation of those allegations, there would be an outcry. An international enquiry would be instigated, politicians from around the world would get involved, a coup may take place, or NATO or a coalition force would go in there, oust the leader, and clean the whole mess up from the top down. However, in the world of football, it isn’t this easy – FIFA are at the top level, in football terms, they are accountable to no-one. They do what they want, when they want, how they want – they do have to give reasoning. The fact they listened to allegations and commissioned an investigation is in itself and gigantic step for FIFA – maybe by expecting the outcome of corruption to be delivered, we are asking for too much.
The only way FIFA are going to change is if one of the following happens:
a) At the next FIFA election, Blatter loses and is replaced. At the last election, he stood on his own and won without having to put up a fight – perhaps another sign of his power. The current moment is a crucial time in the future of FIFA. If the right candidate stands against Blatter, sells there argument well, and promises an honest and open FIFA with them at the helm, one which would put football and the supporters first, they have a chance. There is always the potential they could win, get in power, like how grass the green is and changes nothing.
b) Option B is to breakaway. England are upset at the report, as are many other powerful nations in footballing terms. Imagine a World Cup in Russia and/or Qatar without England (ok, not too difficult), Spain, Germany, Portugal, the USA – teams which all feature world superstars who attract large crowds – it wouldn’t be the same. As we appear to have identified, FIFA know only one language, the language of money. A World Cup with major nations boycotting would lead to major sponsors not wanting to be involved, TV companies not wanting to out-bid each other for the rights to show the games, and fans not that interested in forking out to attend. Before you know it, the World Cup has become a relatively low-key event which people have turned their back on – its stock would be low, and the value of that stock significantly lower. This is the only option as I see it – in 4 years’ time why don’t UEFA (who’s president Platini fancies himself as a future FIFA president) arrange their own European Nations trophy? Or join with other footballing bodies to create a breakaway World Cup where FIFA don’t rule supreme and were football is the only concern.