Sunday 18 March 2018

Don't look to UEFA for the knight in shining armour

UEFA president Michel Platini
UEFA president Michel Platini
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In football, the definition of officialdom will always be old men in suits living like kings. This tradition is as embedded in the game as the offside rule.

Travel to a World Cup and, from a distance, you can witness the ostentatious wealth that is enjoyed by the upper echelons of blazerdom.

On the eve of the 2014 World Cup final, the Copacabana Palace in Rio was taken over by the organisers to throw a cocktail party for esteemed guests from member associations.

Never mind that the director of FIFA's main hospitality partner had been arrested in the hotel at the start of final week as part of a probe into illegal ticket sales. Nothing stops the show from going on.

Will it ever change? There is always the hope that a hero will emerge within football's ranks, yet it's only the soundbites from US investigators miles away from the action that have lifted spirits.

While their focus on past misdemeanours is welcome, what FIFA needs is an influential voice ready to make the right decision about the obvious disgrace that is Qatar 2022. There is still enough time to stop it.

FAI figurehead John Delaney has hailed the open regime of UEFA president Michel Platini, stressing that his 'good friend' is always approachable to fresh ideas.

The former Juventus star has made laudable moves in his tenure, including the change in Champions League qualification structures to favour national champions.

The problem with depicting Platini as a knight in shining armour is that he has openly admitted to voting for Qatar, a call that prompted much innuendo.

A 2013 expose by France Football magazine detailed a secret meeting ahead of the vote between former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Platini, the Qatari crown prince and a representative of struggling Paris Saint-Germain.

Platini has always denied that he was part of any plan which led to huge Qatari investment making PSG a superpower. And when it emerged that his son, Laurent, had been appointed to a role with a Qatari-owned sports company, the sceptics had a field day.

"To say that my choice was part of a deal between the French state and Qatar is pure speculation and lies," fumed Platini Snr, later stating that "no-one ever dictates terms to me."

Earlier this year, when the issue was again raised, he asserted: "It is not regrettable that I voted for Qatar," adding that he acted in the best interests of the game.

Given Qatar's deplorable human rights record and the reports of migrant workers dying on the job, it's difficult to see how proceeding with the 2022 Gulf renewal will do any good for the message.

Platini did say last October that he would back another vote on 2022 if it was proven that corruption influenced the outcome. Football administrators can be pragmatic souls, though, and Delaney yesterday told Newstalk why he believed that the tournament will proceed as planned.


"My simplistic view is that Qatar can sue FIFA," he said. "Qatar has more money than FIFA. The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar was a very strange decision but they've got it now and have spent a lot of money preparing for it."

Money always talks and Qatar have plenty of it. This is why Xavi is relocating there as a disappointing footnote to a great career, and Pep Guardiola has endorsed their soiree. Role models are thin on the ground.

A range of European countries will tick the box next to Prince Ali of Jordan, yet Delaney effectively acknowledged that there is a strain of self-interest in the continent's anger as Blatter has spoken of reducing the European quota in the World Cup - a textbook Sepp move.

It would be preferable if UEFA were kicking up a fuss over 2022 for other reasons. But with the head of the confederation that has shown the most resistance to Blatter on the record as a Qatar backer, it's clear that football has no chance of reforming from within.

That is the sobering reality.

Irish Independent

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