Wednesday 28 September 2016

James Lawton: Michel Platini's hypocrisy is breathtaking

Published 29/05/2015 | 02:30

There we were thinking Lionel Messi had merely saved one football season with his sublime inventions. Now, suddenly, we have only to look to at the unprecedentedly raddled face of the world's most popular game to see that he has done rather more.

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He has at least suggested that re-launching football freed from decades of institutionalised corruption - everyday graft to bring a flush of envy to an old Mafia boss - might be worth the epic trouble.

Yes, of course, football has touched too many lives, lifted too many spirits, to be buried along with any tolerance for the light-fingered plunderers who this week finally felt the hand of justice on their collars in a Swiss dawn.

Justice? We will see down the next few years but in the meantime certain truths have never been more self-evident or in need of emphatic declaration.

The ultimate one is that world football can no longer be allowed to operate in the moral void created by resignation that there is no viable alternative to the self-perpetuating gangsterism that has flourished so long under the leadership of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

He was expected to be yet again formally re-elected in Zurich today but whatever the sickeningly transparent politics of the operation, the reality is that the joke is not only in the poorest taste but it is also time-expired.

In this it is fitting that the big push against FIFA has come from the American attorney general. It was, after all, the slavery-breaking president Abraham Lincoln who declared that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

Those subjected to the attempt by Blatter can be categorised without too much difficulty.

There were those who knew the truth and expressed their revulsion - and those who chose to operate within its poisonous reach, donning their blazers, beating their chests but still playing the game, still refusing to come out into the open and say that to acknowledge the authority of FIFA was to acquiesce in something that had become rotten to its core.

Thus the outrage of FAI chief executive John Delaney, when he talked of Blatter not operating in the real world and seemed to suggest that UEFA might just seize some higher ground, carried all the moral authority of a casual bystander. One course of action, he said, was for FIfA tournaments to be boycotted.

Sepp Blatter
Sepp Blatter

Michel Platini, president of Delaney's nominated problem-solver, voted for the World Cup of Qatar. He did it bare-faced, is unrepentant, and this week he advised Blatter to quit. The hypocrisy is breathtaking in the wake of this week's arrests.

British prime minister David Cameron, naturally, called for Blatter's resignation, apparently unmindful of the fact that when the revelations of FIFA corruption by a London newspaper came during England's bid for the 2018 World Cup - which was given to Moscow - he found them 'frustrating.'

The English bid had Cameron and David Beckham in tow and its leader went further than the prime minister, saying that the newspaper had been unpatriotic.

Qatar was always going to be FIFA's smoking gun. Now, in terms of any meaningful future for the utterly discredited organisation, it more resembles a nuclear explosion. Roll on the mushroom cloud, we might say, but there remains the most daunting of questions.

Who takes the game away from the thieves and the conspirators and gives it back to the people of the world, those who pay for it?

None of the current football establishment, surely. They may voice their anger and their distaste, but when did any of them take their feelings to the line? When did they stand and say however uncertain the future, football's world structure simply could no longer be countenanced?

It is five years since the outrageous vote for Qatar, and until the FBI began to walk purposively in the footsteps of pesky investigative journalists the most serious argument concerned the prospect of disrupting the traditional domestic seasons of the big European nations.

Never mind that the game's greatest tournament had been taken to a desert enclave, with no tradition for the game, an impossible climate, slave labour and laws more befitting the middle ages. The monster was out of its cage and the rest was, of course, the mere details of TV schedules and sponsorship deals.

So who re-instates the good name of football, makes it something worthy of the love and passion it engenders across the globe?

The time-servers of the national associations, mumbling their angst now that law enforcement has come knocking on the door? Hardly.

But how to make a new and necessary structure? How do you trigger new values in a game swarming with avarice?

A universally respected figure within football would be a start, of course, but who carries such credentials? Certainly not Platini, the man with Qatar branded on his record.

Is it, you have to wonder dubiously, the work of governments? You might be more hopeful if the world was a better ordered place, but then perhaps there is some political profit in the idea that football is one of the greatest of common denominators, and that being so its world-wide reform would have some real meaning across all borders and classes. Certainly an image hard to expel when the G-men made their move in Switzerland was the five-year-old one of the potentates of FIFA being driven daily from one of Johannesburg's most lavish hotels during the 2010 World Cup. The limousines swept out from under the flags of the nations and within a couple of miles they were sailing by some of the most scabrous of the townships.

Their brief, they said, was to bring football to all the people and here they were in Africa for the first time, spreading the magic, sharing the riches.

Sharing the riches? We had suspected a lot different long before that daily parade of privilege and pomp. Now it is on the record - and listed in the form of indictments.

What is left in Zurich today, as the 79-year-old Blatter rummages through the remnants of his reign and hopes for, if not redemption, survival, is an ugly shell.

It is a terrible landmark of a game of that is supposed to give joy and relief from some harsher realities.

One way or another, the wider encouragement is a new certainty that it has to be removed.

Irish Independent

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