Friday 28 October 2016

A bribe is a bribe, no matter how you try to present it

Published 06/06/2015 | 02:30

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney

Why would anyone get too exercised about the precise amount of money which came out of FIFA's slush fund to buy the silence of the FAI? Five million dollars, 3.6 million pounds, or 30 pieces of silver? What's the difference?

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A bribe is a bribe, however you count it or try to paint it.

FAI chief John Delaney is now deep into the exercise and the more he talks the more excruciating it becomes.

A week or so ago Delaney was saying what an embarrassment Sepp Blatter - the man with whom he did the dealing - was to the good name of world football governance. Perhaps a quick glance into the mirror is now in order.

There he will see the face of a man who, for all the pious noises he has made in support of the most swingeing reforms of FIFA, felt no need for revelation - or justification - of a secret, pecuniary settlement to a moral issue which convulsed Irish football so deeply five years ago.

The most relevant point now is not whether the Irish football authority had any legal foundation in believing they could successfully sue FIFA for the failure of a Swedish referee to spot the blatant cheating of French player Thierry Henry which may have cost Giovanni Trapattoni's team a place in the South African World Cup finals.

It is the manner in which they made their surreptitious deal. Sometimes it is okay, apparently, to do a deal with the devil, and the long silence which has been broken only in the turmoil of Blatter and FIFA's unravelling credibility tells us all we need know about the role of the common football supporter.

This is to pay his money for the support of his team and the game at large, to provide the emotional force, and then suffer a lack of accountability that might cause rebellion in a labour camp.

Delaney was quick to relate to the disappointment of the thousands who travelled to Paris for one of the most important games in the nation's history. They were, he said, the big victims - out of pocket and left with no sense of justice in the game's greatest tournament.

Yet did they merit even a fleeting mention of the accommodation reached between the FAI and a Blatter who had openly mocked the fate of Irish World Cup hopes, who made cheesy jokes about it from an official podium?

No, they just had to work away at the hard edge of their anger and frustration while the men in the blazers made their damage assessments.

There was no compensation, of course, for the costs involved in a journey to Paris that was rendered essentially meaningless by appalling official error. Delaney's apologists back his fervent claim that he made a 'good, legitimate deal' on behalf of the FAI and provided some not insignificant seed money for a new stadium. This claim, of course, now needs some thorough detailing, and this may come if demands for an official investigation are met, as they should be.

Yet there can be no vindication for a an appalling example of that lack of transparency which has left the workings of so much of international football, including the World Cups of 2018 and 2022, besieged by ever growing suspicion.

What happened when Henry so shamelessly subverted the rules of the game was maybe an ultimate consequence of the game's chronic failure to embrace the advantages of technology. It was potentially a test case of all test cases. The Irish were the victims but they were also, potentially, prime moves in the most important of developments - a proper use of technology to augment the work of officials who, because of the scale of television coverage, had never operated under such fierce pressure.

Arsene Wenger captured the essence of the incident better than anyone.

He said that while of course he felt aggrieved for Ireland, the person he felt most sorry for was the referee - "because, within a few seconds, he was the only man in the world who did not realise he had made a terrible mistake."

Blatter's reaction was to sneer at the pain and the anger the incident had created. Then, maybe, he was apprised of some potential consequences, including a legal case which at the very least would prove extremely embarrassing.

So Blatter sat down with Delaney and made him an offer which we are told was impossible to refuse. Why? Because a terrible wrong might be put right? That a genuine chance for vital reform would be seized?

No. Because there would be fractional contribution to a new stadium, something short perhaps of a major sponsorship deal, and the chance to get the old circus moving along merrily once more.

This from the chief executive of a national association apparently dedicated to helping clean up the FIFA mess.

This week Delaney was informative to a fault about the way Blatter once ogled his girlfriend. He told us how he had firmly remonstrated with a man he considered a blight on world football. More valuable, perhaps, would have been a brighter light shining on matters more vital to the future of football.

Not least, maybe, a deeper explanation of backroom dealings with the man now so widely castigated as a football pariah. In its absence, it was inevitably easier than ever to believe that for many within the game Sepp Blatter's greatest crime has been to be found out.

Irish Independent

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