Stumped, Unanswered Questions and an Organization with a Credibility Death-Wish

FIFA President Sepp Blatter congratulating Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Russia's right to host the 2018 World Cup. Photo (c) Government of the Russian Federation website.


Comment by Declan Hill
Comment: December 2nd, 2010 I am stumped. Like many people around the world I watched the proceedings from Zurich with absolute amazement.

Here are a list of some of the questions I have answered today. 

Should Russia have been awarded the World Cup?
In normal circumstances, under a normal bidding procedure – no problem. Russia is a great country with a superb sporting background. However, these are not ordinary circumstances and the bidding procedure where a quarter of the executives have been substantially-linked to bribery is in no way normal.

What was wrong?
I hold nothing against the Russian bid. It seemed professional and credible. But in general, there are a series of unanswered questions around Russian sport. One, in the 1990s and early 2000s, a person in just about every possible position in Russian sport was murdered by the mob. The head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation – murdered. The executive in charge of finances at Russia’s most popular soccer club – murdered. The skate sharpener for the CSKA Moscow ice hockey team – murdered. The car of a popular figure skating champion – blown up. A European boxing title-holder – murdered. The head of a youth federation and sport – murdered.

Here are some questions.

Have Russian authorities stopped this bloodbath? If so, how did they do it? Did they form a special police task force to clean-up sports? Did they form informal alliances with mobsters to stop the murders? If so, which mobsters did they work with?

I ask because there is a second section of questions around the presence of the Russian mobsters in sports. I give an example from ‘The Fix’ on my blog. There is another. The man who according to the FBI helped fix the Salt Lake City Olympics is seen here – with his arms around Sepp Blatter at an exclusive Moscow restaurant.

Why did Blatter pose with this man? A case of mistaken identity? A doctored photo? Who introduced the two men?
Again, I want to make it clear that these questions do not reflect on the Russian bid. It is simply that they remain unanswered and to judge Russian sport at its current level without knowing the answers is very difficult. Particularly, given the bizarre circumstances surrounding the bid process.

Did England lose the bid because of Andrew Jennings and the Panorama team?
Andrew Jennings is the best of England: tough, resourceful and intelligent. His documentary exposing long-term corruption at the heart of some international football dealings was a superb example of good journalism.

What is wrong with Qatar getting the World Cup?
Like hundreds of millions of other men around the world I like watching football with a beer in one hand, a hot-dog in the other and, if humanly possible, scantly-clad women around me. Nix all three in Qatar. Beer? Illegal. Pork? Illegal. My girlfriend or any other glamourous female Brazilian fans wearing shorts or bikinis? Possibly punishable by death, but certainly illegal. The decision is a travesty. Unexplainable for soccer reasons, to make soccer players and fans travel, train and possibly play in 40 degree heat is absurd. To do it in a underpopulated desert country is unfathomable.

To sum up?
The whole proceedings made it look like FIFA is an organization with a credibility death-wish. I defy any reader to go into their nearest pub and not find someone of good faith who does not think there was something wrong with the process.  

This comment was first published on Declan Hill's Blog on 2 December 2010, and is republished on Play the Game's website with kind permission from the author.


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