Sunday 21 December 2014

Behind FIFA's talk, football has become pork-barrel politics

Paul Hayward

Published 03/06/2014 | 02:30

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff with the World Cup trophy during a ceremony in Brasilia yesterday. Reuters
FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff with the World Cup trophy during a ceremony in Brasilia yesterday. Reuters

WHEN FIFA is not forcing outrageous construction bills on developing countries in return for the right to stage the World Cup, bribes are allegedly being offered to small countries so that immensely rich ones can buy football's biggest tournament.

Brazil, where the World Cup kicks off on Thursday week, is groaning under the weight of FIFA's demands on stadiums and infrastructure, as South Africa did four years ago. Qatar, on the other hand, is spending billions of dollars on a future-proofing project that was secured, according to overwhelming evidence, by corrupt payments to African nations to swing the 2022 vote away from Australia and America.

This unholy combination – gigantism and ballot rigging – has wrecked the governing body's credibility, with potentially disastrous consequences for the world's favourite game.

Across the planet this week, fans of 32 teams are fantasising about a carnival in a country that expresses the game's most joyous features. The return of the event to Brazil for the first time since 1950 is a homecoming for the trophy. Fifa's failure to prevent greed sweeping through its ranks threatens to wipe out the love we feel for World Cups, which, at their best, can be unifying and inspiring spectacles.

That special magic is under threat. The Qatar World Cup started out as a farce: 50C temperatures in an oil-rich state with virtually no football culture and repressive laws. Now it is a scandal.

The starting point is that the 2022 'vote', such as it was, must be annulled.

Unless similar evidence emerges of skulduggery in Russia's victory in the 2018 bidding race, Vladimir Putin's World Cup must be disentangled from the 2022 vote, even though the two decisions were taken together, and therefore overlapped.

If these allegations stand up, there is now no moral or legal basis for abiding by a World Cup in Qatar eight years from now. Nor can FIFA carry on its present form. This artificial pushing together of the regions of the world in a Swiss tax haven has led to too many carve-ups and too little transparency and accountability. The supra-continental formula no longer works. Football needs a global law-making body and it needs worldwide tournaments. But it has no need of cash stuffed in bags, slush funds, inspection visits that encourage bungs and secret ballots by executive committees.

Behind FIFA's rhetoric about spreading (and loving) the game, football has become pork-barrel politics: a vast deal-making factory with too many opportunities for panjandrums to fill their sponsored boots.

A disaster for African football – to which most of Mohamed bin Hammam's slush fund apparently went – the Qatar scandal is not one the richer countries can feel smug about. Before the 2018 vote, which England hoped to win, the English Football Association denounced media scrutiny of FIFA bribery as "unpatriotic" and wrote to their "friends" in Switzerland to apologise for the kerfuffle around a Panorama expose.

For too long the FA has talked of "building bridges" with FIFA, which has always disliked the "arrogant" English, with their mother country smugness.

This amounts to looking the other way. On the eve of the 2018-2022 vote, Andy Anson, one of leaders of England's bid, dismissed the Panorama evidence as "sensationalist". Some of the same people who wheeled out David Cameron and Prince William in support of the bid are the ones now crying foul.

By the same token France, the UEFA president Michel Platini's country, has benefited from vast Qatari investment in Paris St Germain, a previously under-achieving club transformed into a European superpower.

Anyone who stands up to FIFA is treated as a crank or an enemy of football.

FIFA is led by Sepp Blatter and his recent admission that awarding a World Cup to Qatar had been a "mistake" suggested that he knew the full extent of Bin Hammam's lobbying was about to be exposed.

Michael Garcia, a New York lawyer appointed in 2012 to investigate Qatar's win, is said to have been a long way short of completing his enquiries before this latest tide of filth washed up at FIFA's door. There is clear evidence that Garcia has been heavily obstructed along the way.

In every public statement, the fiesta about to get under way is called the 'FIFA World Cup'. It is not the FIFA World Cup. It is everyone's World Cup

It has been stolen by a ruined global so-called "governing body".

But they should realise: the world will not applaud a lie. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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