Comment: FIFA’s top has chosen hosts that match its own dubious business practices, but it may be too early for them to rejoice
With the double choice of Russia and Qatar as hosts for the World Cups 2018 and 2022, FIFA has killed two birds with one stone. They have shown the world that they take the globalisation of football seriously by choosing two geographical regions that have never come close to organising a World Cup before. And they have chosen two countries in which FIFA ExCo members can continue their dubious management practices at a very low risk of being disturbed by questions from a critical press or obnoxious politicians.
For FIFA’s top 22, the choices today were in logical accordance with their aggressive denial of the well-documented allegations of massive bribery brought forward by BBC Panorama last Monday - a progamme that added to the ill reputation FIFA had already acquired after the Sunday Times revealed two FIFA exco members’ readiness to sell their votes.
When you compare the exclusion of the two light-weight FIFA politicians Adamu and Temarii - who were merely asking for money - with FIFA’s refusal of acting against the four heavy-weight leaders Teixeira, Léoz, Hayatou and Warner – who in different ways actually took big sums of money - it becomes evident that FIFA’s declared zero tolerance against corruption can be declared of zero value.
Blatter’s dilemma is clear: If he tries to topple the latter four most greedy FIFA leaders, who constitute his own political basis, he will fall by the same axe that he swings over their heads.
Moreover, the choice of Russia with its fame for opaque corporate and public sectors may make some of the creative men at FIFA’s top fantasize about new profitable business arrangements.
In contrast, the youngest remaining ExCo member, Michel Platini (55), has called for the formation of an anti-corruption sports police because he realizes that football leaders cannot combat the organized crime that is digging its way into football.
I could not help noticing his body language and facial expression on TV when the choice of Russia was about to be announced. He looked like a man who was weighed down by insurmountable future challenges. The choice of Qatar must have pleased Blatter in particular. Not only because it was moving to see the very emotional and surprised reaction of the Qatari delegation when the nation’s name appeared from Blatter’s envelope, as if these people who at home belongs to a spoiled and untouchable elite, in this football context experienced a genuine feeling of humble persons coming to glory.
Blatter must also be extremely satisfied with being able to hand such a gift to the Qatari president of Asian football, his ExCo colleague Mohammad Bin Hammam, who once financed the FIFA President’s electoral campaign and put his private jet at Blatter’s disposal, but recently threatened to run against Blatter in next year’s elections.
Blatter’s boat will not rock in the desert sand. Many things may point to a future in which FIFA’s denial and corruption practices can continue unchanged. But it is too early for FIFA leaders to breathe a sigh of relief. The decision by FIFA to combine two World Cup bid procedures has been lamented by FIFA itself for other reasons, but it does open up a quite new and interesting political situation: We are now entering a very long time span until the next World Cup decision is to be taken, a time span in which sceptical government leaders and national federations do not need to constantly flatter the FIFA top and preserve it from criticism.
Losing countries like the USA, Australia, UK, Holland, Belgium and perhaps also Spain and Portugal may not go out immediately with furious comments about a bid procedure that has proved unworthy and untrustworthy. But soon leading politicians now face the impossible task of explaining to their taxpayers and voters why they have thrown tens of millions of dollars and euros away in a game that was anything but professional, open and fair.
Likewise, in all countries that render strong public subsidies to sport, a growing number politicians may demand football to get its own house in order. Noteworthy is the growing concern shown by politicians in Switzerland who are not delighted to realize that the exemptions that sports organisations enjoy in the anti-corruption legislation, are in fact exploited for all the wrong reasons. Tightened anti-corruption laws in the home country of 50 sports would constitute a major step ahead, although a few organisations might then seek asylum elsewhere.
While Russia and Qatar have the right to celebrate for some time, a much larger number of countries will enter into a mood of sombre reflection, fully aware that the reputation of FIFA is perhaps irreparably broken. On a daily basis and with no World Cup in sight on the horizon, what do we then need FIFA for? We need football, yes, playful children on a grass field, yes, chanting fan crowds, yes. But two dozens of elderly men, enriching themselves, lying to the rest of us, while claiming to work for the game and for the world?
It is evident that FIFA depends on the world and the game. But it is not a given thing that the world and the game need FIFA. Pick a ball, find a friend, and see how easily football will live without them.