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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Fifa-Fi-Fo-Fum


"I want one BILLION dollars."

‘A World Cup of fraud’, said Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general. So did the IRS’s criminal investigations unit’s chief investigator, Richard Weber, before adding, ‘today we are issuing FIFA a red card’. ‘AMERICA(N METAPHORS)! F*CK YEAH!’, he didn’t add, unfortunately.

You can say what you like about FIFA, but it certainly doesn’t do things by half. Nine senior FIFA officials arrested for trousering somewhere in the region of $150m over the last 25 years, 25 as yet un-named co-conspirators, investigations into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and more racketeering on the go than Roland Garros.
All of this leaves FIFA in crisis, according to pretty much every newspaper. Intriguingly, it also re-opens the possibility for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 to be reassigned. And sure as apples secretly masquerade as onions, that fact hasn’t been lost on England’s greatest tabloid, the Sun ‘newspaper’, who as early as this morning were trumpeting ‘Now we want the World Cup 2018’.

Look at that. A seamless segue between morally ambiguous, shady characters presiding over one of the most powerful organisations in the world … and FIFA.

So let’s prepare for a long summer full of Sunshite. For surely the Sun’s campaign to ‘bring football home’ (is there anywhere we can put money on that, actually?) is only days away from launching. It already has the support of former UEFA president Lennart Johansson, who gave the sort of backhanded endorsement totally appropriate to someone fairly adept with backhanders: “England haven’t had it since 1966 and it’s considered ’the motherland of football’, whatever we might think. They are worthy of the attention.”

YOU SEE. WE KNEW IT. Bring football home – bring it back to these shores, where relentless profiteering saw the formation of a league that is now one of the biggest brands in the world, a league structure that is slanted to reward only those who can afford it, has no coherent national team identity or policies and is steadily pricing supporters out of going to see their clubs if they have the misfortune to taste even the slightest bit of success. Yes!!!! Let’s bring football home!!!

Ahem. Anyway. While there are no doubt further revelations still to unfurl, Sepp Blatter is going to be clinging to the FIFA presidency like a superglued limpet, and with Russia already having spent a fair old whack on the tournament (and even designing a logo), we can’t see that particular decision being reversed. Telling is it that Blatter has (been forced to) come out and say that this clusterfuck could be GOOD for Fifa. “This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organisation,” whiffled Blatter. No it isn’t pal. This is EXACTLY what we’ve all wanted for decades. Apparently, Fifa welcomes “the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football”. Because as we all know, Michael Garcia’s report was welcomed with open arms wasn’t it.

And while the Latin American press has barely concealed its delight – as the quite magnificent ‘old bastards’ treatment suggests – pragmatism still reigns among associations in the lesser developed football nations, from whom Blatter draws many of the votes that come his way. And for every UEFA statement stating the elections scheduled for Friday should be postponed, expect a similar one (if not more) from a different association, in this case Asia, suggesting they should press on and that Blatter has their full support.

The real question, despite the long overdue involvement of the authorities in FIFA’s affairs, will it actually make any difference? Operationally, FIFA remains largely unaffected (as you tend to do when you’ve got a billion in the bank and a jolly in Zurich to enjoy). In terms of self-awareness, FIFA will remain largely unaffected, because it just always does. Far more likely is that Blatter distances himself from the low-hanging fruit the World Police have gathered, and positions himself as the figurehead of a new FIFA, the oldest new broom since Arnie was recast in Terminator.

Probably the most harmful development would be for the corporate sponsors to issue a volte face and tell Fifa to stick their contracts. There have been fairly muted noises off stage over the past few hours – Hyundai is “extremely concerned”, while Visa has issued its “disappointment and concern with Fifa”. In reality though, of course, this basically translates as “we have to say something and hopefully in a few weeks, all is forgotten”. Good to know though that McDonald’s, like some creepy old bloke hanging around a kids playground, is “monitoring the situation”.

And with the most perfect timing in the universe, just as we write this, good old Vladimir Putin has been reported saying this:

“It looks very strange, the arrests are carried out on the request of the USA side. They are accused of corruption – who is? International officials. I suppose that someone broke some rules, I don’t know. But definitely, it’s got nothing to do with the USA. Those officials are not US citizens. If something happened it was not in the US and it’s nothing to do with them. 

"It’s another clear attempt by the USA to spread its jurisdiction to other states. And I have no doubt – it’s a clear attempt not to allow Mr Blatter to be re-elected as president of Fifa, which is a great violation of the operating principles of international organisations.” 

Loathesome dictator love-in aside, this COULD just be the house of cards wobbling. But Joseph S. Blatter has so far always ensured that he dishes out enough carrots to those in positions of power to embed loyalty and guarantee votes from various confederations. A gambling man would still struggle to bet against Blatter clinging to power once more come Friday’s vote, should it go ahead.

Richard Weber, who we referenced at the top of this piece, had something else to say. ‘Fans shouldn’t have to worry about officials corrupting their sport’, he stated – but it’s going to take a hell of a transition before that becomes a reality.

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