Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughAs Cracks Appear Across The FIFA Universe - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough As Cracks Appear Across The FIFA Universe - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

As Cracks Appear Across The FIFA Universe

As his words flowed out like endless rain into a journalistic crowd people around the world watched with open mouths. This was supposed to be a press conference to put people’s minds at rest about the issue of corruption in FIFA yet Sepp Blatter sat there brazenly declaring that nothing was going to change his world. Words that he probably imagined as statesman-like wisdom and brilliant rebuttals came across as the slightly deranged responses of a man who’s forgotten exactly why he still needs to appease the uppity peasants in front of him. The 75-year-old FIFA President appeared simultaneously confused and affronted that he was being forced to explain himself to a pack of mangy journalists. His entire body language screamed a desire to be able to press a button which would strike up the imperial march while armed Stormtroopers would frog-march any filthy protesters out of the room. His whole posture seemed to ask “after all that I have done for football (not to mention humanity) surely I deserves the common courtesy of not being asked to answer all these questions?”

The problem for Uncle Sepp is that, aside from one or two rather obviously planted questions along the lines of “how can we thank you Oh Benevolent Leader for all you have done for us?” the questions he was being asked were ones that he was totally unable to answer. Investigative journalists like Matt Smith and David Conn from the Guardian or Tariq Panja from Bloomberg News scent blood and went for the throat. Right now a birds-eye view of the gaps in FIFA’s credibility would show a remarkable resemblance to the San Andreas Fault at the moment. In the past six months four members of the FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) have been investigated and found guilty of corruption, meaning that a sixth of footballs most powerful body have been found guilty of serious misdemeanours. Before the accusations against Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner saw them suspended both Issa Hayatou and Reynald Temarii were both caught engaging in unethical practises. According to Andrew Jennings there is evidence that a further six more (at least) would be found guilty by an independent investigation. 

It should be remembered that this is hardly the first scandal in FIFA during Sepp’s presidency. In 1998 there were lots of unanswered questions about the legitimacy of his election victory. In 2002 Farah Addo the former Somali FA President claimed to have been offered a bribe of around £10,000 to support Blatter. Following the 2006 World Cup in Germany Jack Warner was exposed as being involved in a seriously lucrative cash-for-tickets scandal. Before this year’s election (coronation?) a Swiss paper conducted a poll asking people whether they believed Blatter is corrupt. A staggering 86% of respondents replied that they were “100% sure” that he was. Only 3% believed he wasn’t and it is hardly beyond the realms of possibility that they would be the 3% of Switzerland that’s related to good ole Uncle Sepp.

Controversy in FIFA has become so commonplace over the past few decades that each one is now as surprising as a headline about tensions rising in the Middle East. This time however something is different. Whereas previously there has almost been a code of Omerta at the top levels in FIFA, this time Blatter and his co-conspirator Chuck Blazer have thrown some incredibly senior members of the ExCo to the wolves. Many people have seen the accusations against bin Hammam as a deeply unsubtle ploy to remove him from the Presidency race, leaving Blatter as the only runner. But the decision to suspend Jack Warner is far more surprising given how long Mr. Warner has been at FIFA. If there is anyone that knows where the bodies are buried it is “Honest Jack.” He promised a tsunami and so far has only delivered a warning shot with his e-mail about Jerome Valcke and Qatar’s attempts to buy the World Cup. Should he wish, Warner could make life far more uncomfortable for the other members of ExCo.

Of all the disgusting aspects of this scandal, the only one that is genuinely surprising is that Warner was implicated along with bin Hammam. While a suspension for bin Hammam has obvious advantages for Blatter, the accusations against Warner don’t have such a clear benefit. It has been alleged that that Chuck Blazer, the man who brought the charges against both, was working with Blatter in order to provide benefits for both. Blatter can suspend his only rival for the presidency and Blazer removes a very powerful figure in CONCACAF, strengthening his own position. Given that Blazer is the one who broke the allegations in the first place it is surprising that he has managed to avoid most of the media frenzy compared to his fellow officials. This becomes even more curious when one considers given how much he gains from the decision of the Ethics Committee. The suspension of Warner in particular leaves Blazer as one of footballs most powerful men in the Americas. The political battle lines in CONCACAF remain unclear after Warners suspension but Blazers coup would suggest a burgeoning American influence in football’s governing body.

In recent years America has transformed itself from a football minnow into a regular in the knock-out stages in the World Cup. A decade ago America had nowhere near the calibre of players such as Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey to call on. The MLS has reinvented itself and the growing coverage of American football shows its increasing influence on the world game. While still a relatively under-appreciated and poorly supported sport in the USA, football is nevertheless beginning to impose itself on the American conscious in a way it has never managed before. This growing influence is creating new power structures on the continent, in particular pitting America against the Caribbean. The first act of the interim CONCACAF president Lisle Austin of Barbados attempted to out Blazer after the American’s exposed Warner.  

Throughout footballs history emerging powers have sought to exert their own influence on the future of the game. Initially the European powers were dominant with South America also wielding considerable influence. Then the African and Asian federations flexed their own muscle with tournaments being held in Japan and South Korea in 2002 and South Africa in 2010. Finally the US FA may be ready to play a bigger role in world football. Seventeen years after the 1994 World Cup was held in America to try and entice Americans towards football the current FIFA scandal may well see the first signs of a rise in American influence on the game. 

David Adelman

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