Sport Soccer

Monday 20 November 2017

Truth a mirage when viewed from top of the FIFA pyramid

Dion Fanning

There was something appropriate about Sepp Blatter's most polished soundbites being delivered for many of us through an interpreter last week.

Sepp had his spontaneous press conference on Monday when he sounded startled at the lack of respect. This disrespect, this lack of elegance, came mainly from the English media who had driven the story and weren't going to stop now.

By Tuesday, he was back and addressing the English-speaking world as he preferred: in French. This was the FIFA House everyone understood. This was the world which could not hail Blatter enough. "Please, more applause," the Benin representative pleaded with the crowd as they raced to praise their exalted leader and then vote for him and only him.

All the obvious parallels were there: the Arab Spring, the powerful dictator talking in front of the Politburo with the desperate displays of eager sycophancy. Most importantly, there was the true sense of absolute power in the arrogance with which the allegations and the crusading work of the English media was dismissed.

The FIFA House, as Blatter addressed the delegates with that Euro-menace, was a place from a JG Ballard novel. This was Eden-Olympia in Super-Cannes, a business park for Europe's elite that throbs with disguised menace. Ballard's characters are encouraged to release their stress with extreme acts of sex and violence. There is no drug as powerful as psychopathy, Eden-Olympia's psychiatrist insists.

Blatter's world in Zurich offers protections but perhaps there was also the thrill of corruption and the antidote to boredom in their actions.

In the FIFA House, as in Eden-Olympia, ethics have a lower priority than the unity of their corporate model, the FIFA pyramid that Sepp tops. He was even able to get away with brandishing FIFA's Ethics Code on Monday and urge everyone to read it. Helpfully, he pointed out that it wasn't very long, which was no shock.

By Wednesday, Blatter was outlining reforms. From now on, the World Cup hosts will be decided by all FIFA members, he insisted. The ExCo would draw up a shortlist, of course, and they could vote on their suggestion. He gave this guarantee just before the ballot -- or shortlist -- for president was circulated. There was one name on that. It was Sepp Blatter's.

So the FIFA family as currently constituted can't really be trusted in the production of shortlists. The free vote was greeted with such applause at the FIFA House one would be tempted to think they were thrilled at the spreading of the wealth rather than the injection of integrity into the process.

Most people hoped that corporate sponsors -- like those who found Tiger Woods' private life inappropriate -- would be the ones who would lead the revolution. On Friday, adidas confirmed they would be continuing their long-term sponsorship but called for "clarity" on the bribery allegations. How much clearer things needed to be was hard to say. We had pictures of $40,000 in cash and emails from FIFA's general secretary referring to Qatar buying the World Cup, yet adidas needed some more clarity.

Maybe they needed less clarity. Maybe they didn't want a picture of Jack Warner walking out of a room with bundles of cash falling out of his pockets because in the world of FIFA, and in the world of corporate sponsors, what they say and what they mean are usually very different.

Their words are intended not to mean anything at all and their statement last week may have contained certain words but things are too lucrative, and adidas's association with FIFA too long and, em, storied, for them to have any purpose. Their words are chosen from the corporate handbook of bullshit, but 'clarity' was perhaps a clumsy choice given that if one thing was established last week, it was a clarity around corruption in FIFA.

When the press have pictures of bundles of cash allegedly used to offer bribes to national associations (a quick check at the Ethics Code will tell you that it's not illegal to offer bribes, just to take them) then things can't be any clearer.

Words, especially those produced by the English media, are Blatter's enemy. At FIFA, a Ballardian dystopia, words have no meaning or must mean the opposite of what is said. When Sepp tells the English FA there is no bad feeling, that "you English need not worry", they must be very afraid. The English have, they will tell you at FIFA House, been naive. There's a long game at play, even if, to the untutored eye, it looks similar to the short game, the only game, Sepp's game.

The FAI will feel that in backing Blatter, they guaranteed rewards for the association when Michel Platini takes over. Platini is "incorruptible". We should know, he told us himself.

Change might be an illusion but the long game is just a self-satisfied recoil away from the danger zone and the protection that long lunches with the sneering pack offers.

They sneered at the English last week and laughed at how the FA's view of their own media had altered since last December's World Cup bid. They had tried to silence men like Andrew Jennings and now they were uncomfortable allies.

There is a case to be made that those awards changed everything. They demonstrated that FIFA felt they could do what they want. Qatar in 2022 was the thing all sides agreed had to be protected last week.

Yet it is this World Cup that will bring FIFA down. It was "bought" as the general secretary and Blatter ally Jerome Valcke said. He had spoken clearly in a private email to Jack Warner but soon was back in the business of obfuscation, in his statement of clarification that meant nothing at all. Blatter's supporter were shameless, but feeling no shame is almost the point. The English FA, neurotic and torn, pursued something and spoke with clarity. They could see clearly now and, as a result, were exiled for a generation.

dfanning@independent.ie

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