Comment: On May 27 Alaistar Campbell - Tony Blair's former spin doctor – used the name FIFAgate on the corruption allegations and backstabbing in FIFA before the Congress in Zürich at the beginning of June.
Little did Campbell know that within a week, Henry Kissinger would be proposed as FIFA’s clean-up guy – the man who served as Secretary of State under Richard Nixon.
Who’s tricking who?
Campbell has previously shared some interesting observations on FIFA and has amongst other things tried to compare FIFA with nation states. With an outset in the Press Freedom Index he placed FIFA close to Qatar and Russia - who are both far down the list - and far from the countries who – at least – say they want more transparency in FIFA. He has also portrayed FIFA as similar to an authoritarian state with little degree of transparency and democracy.
The question is whether FIFA will be able to reform into a more democratic organization or whether reformist countries must adapt to FIFA’s closed and corrupt practice. Paradoxically, Henry Kissinger may contribute to more transparency in FIFA and those who want to help Sepp Blatter into retirement.
These are suggestions made by Andrew Jennings – Sepp Blatter’s biggest tormentor and notorious corruption fighter. Jennings has a different approach to Henry Kissinger's role in FIFA politics than most other commentators and journalists. Most commentators criticize Kissinger's role in Vietnam, Chile and elsewhere while Jennings points out two important factors relevant for the FIFA clean-up. The first is that Kissinger was responsible for the clean-up in the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandal.
Secondly, he points to the fact that Kissinger was part of the U.S. bidding committee that tried to get the FIFA World Cup to the U.S. in 2022. America lost the battle to Qatar - the country now become in the epicentre of all corruption allegations. This gives Kissinger legitimacy as a clean-up guy, but also a motive of revenge which Blatter most probably will get a taste of.
Kissinger's role in the Salt Lake City clean-up is of great importance to what is going on in FIFA. Kissinger and his consulting firm were not hired by the IOC but by the sponsors of IOC. The sponsors were concerned about their reputation and needed a strong man to clean up a closed system. Kissinger's experience with hard politics and dictatorships came in handy. So what about this time?
I don’t think – contrary to many other reports - that Blatter has a personal wish for Kissinger to clean up FIFA. Once again I think the sponsors play a crucial role and they look to what happened in the IOC clean-up. Main FIFA sponsors like VISA, Coca Cola, Emirates, McDonald's are worried about their reputation by what is happening in FIFA in these days. In other words, it is sponsors who are the main forces in FIFA’s transparency and democratization process and not the national football associations.
Who you gonna call?
In his blog in the renowned journal Foreign Policy, Daniel W. Drezner writes that Blatter and FIFA make the EU look good. In the EU Kissinger is known to be one of the sharpest critics of the EU – especially its foreign policy. Kissinger is famously known for saying “If I want to call Europe, who do I call?” – knowing very well that such a number does not exist.
What remains to be seen is whether Kissinger will eventually make FIFA look better than the EU – bringing back the world order to normal. For Kissinger it is not only FIFA’s honour that is at stake!
This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on 7 June 2011. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on sportensuutholdeligeletthet.blogspot.com