From comedy to farce. FIFA is in a crisis, regardless of what President Sepp Blatter says.
Yet a revolution within the governing body is closer than people realise. Blatter may be re-elected tomorrow for another four year term, but he has already announced he will be standing down in 2015, and he is likely to endorse the candidacy of Michel Platini.
Should the Frenchman take charge of FIFA, we can expect the organisation to change for the better. Platini is a genuine reformer, who has done great things with UEFA during his time in charge. His election would also be a positive step towards rooting out corruption, as he is one of the few members of the governing body who it is said simply cannot be corrupted.
The clamour for change now and quickly is understandable, and correct. So much at FIFA just doesn’t make sense, from the way they elect their members to the way in which the World Cup host is decided. Power is far too concentrated in the hands of the few, with confederation heads like Nicolas Leoz and and Jack Warner far too strong.
Yet most of the shouting at the governing body is coming from here in England. Our government and media are increasingly vocal in their criticism of FIFA’s ways. But this is incredibly hypocritical.
The corruption that the press says is endemic in FIFA apparently goes back to the days of Joao Havelange, Blatter’s predecessor at the helm of the organisation. It doesn’t go back as far as Stanley Rous apparently.
What is often forgotten is that England has had more Presidents of FIFA than any other country. We’ve had several opportunities to implement the reforms that are now being foist upon FIFA. Sure, these reforms are necessary and overdue, but who are we to sling mud? Rous in his time in charge attempted to force the Soviet Union to play a World Cup qualifying play off against Chile in a stadium in Santiago which quite literally had to be scrubbed clean from the blood on the dressing room walls as a result of the housing and killing of political victims of General Augusto Pinochet, who had just launched a bloody coup against the government.
The Soviet Union, no strangers to violence against political prisoners themselves, refused to play in the stadium for obvious humanitarian reasons, and though the irony of their humane decision was lost on no-one, Rous was the President who insisted that the game go ahead in this stadium despite its use for some of the most inhuman acts of the post-World War II era.
Rous also persistently kept Africa out of world football’s corridors of power, and had to be forced to eventually allow them an automatic place in the World Cup. Worse still, Rous consistently supported the cause of the apartheid regime in South Africa, getting the country re-admitted into FIFA despite its segregation policies, and continuing to champion their cause throughout his time in power.
Sure, Rous never took a backhander, but moral corruption is equally reprehensible. And now, Blatter goes forward to an election he is bound to win. There is no opposition, and thus, even more criticism is hurled FIFA’s way. But wait – didn’t we have the opportunity to put someone else up against Blatter, and not from within FIFA? Yes, we did. Elias Figueroa was the ChangeFIFA candidate whose attempt to run was as brief as a Blatter response to a reasonable question. And there was the Sports Illustrated editor Grant Wahl, who met with members of FIFA, yet none endorsed his candidacy. All it needed was one Football Association, such as the English one, to approve him and he would be running in tomorrow’s election.
But no. We forfeited our opportunity to oppose, and now we complain that there is no opposition.
When it comes to abuse of the position of the FIFA President, we have as much to answer for as Blatter, Havelange or anyone else. We’ve had three goes at running FIFA as a country, and the French two. And now we are on the outside of FIFA, we have failed in our duty to oppose from within by nominating alternatives from outside the governing body. If anyone is going to finally make the much needed reforms to the organisation, the last country they should be listening to on the topic is England.
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