30 June 2011.
Fifa is corrupt and everybody has known about it for years. The most recent allegations against executive committee members Bin Hammam and Jack Warner – which involved bribes totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for votes - are merely the latest developments in a long-running saga.
But, as much as everyone knows about the corruption, no one seems willing, or able, to do anything about it. Political scientist Andrei Markovits, the author of Gaming The World: How Sports are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture, explains why the Fifa delegates are almost untouchable.
and “Fifa is a completely closed oligarchy, which is the perfect form for mischief. They are lording over the greatest good in the world, but they are completely independent of political rule. These guys could be child molesters, or mass murderers, and fans would still want to watch their beloved Manchester United, or England. So, apart from a few eggheads, investigative reporters and political scientists, no one really cares about the corruption.”
The immense global popularity of football makes it a special case, as opposed to the more obscure sports in the Olympic Games. “That is the crux of the difference with the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which is far more accountable.
With the Olympics there is a different threshold of shame because most fans don’t care about shot-putting or pole vaulting. As Jerry Seinfeld once said ‘all the fans are doing is rooting for laundry’ – in other words, the colours of their nations on the jerseys.
As a result, the Olympics could lose a lot of popularity if there were corruption allegations as people would refuse to watch.”
The long list of corruption allegations against Fifa dates back at least as far as 1998, when Blatter was elected president amid accusations that the previous incumbent, Joao Havelange, had bought support for him. In a recent expose on the BBC programme, Panorama, broadcast on 16 May 2011, it was alleged that in 1997 Havelange took a $1 million bung, which Blatter knew about. It is, therefore, alleged that Blatter came to power through corrupt patronage.
The controversy surrounding Blatter has not abated. In May 2002, with the Fifa presidential election looming, he was the subject of a formal legal complaint by 11 Fifa colleagues, comprising five Fifa vice-presidents and six other ExCo colleagues. Amid many allegations, Blatter was accused of paying $100,000 to a former ExCo member Viacheslav Koloskov, president of the Russian football union, to buy his influence. Blatter admitted he’d paid the cash, but denied wrongdoing.
The most recent controversies have concerned bin Hammam, former president of the Asian Football Confederation, and another Fifa official, Jack Warner, of Trinidad and Tobago. They have been accused of offering cash payments of $40,000 apiece to about two dozen officials from Caribbean nations, with the understanding that they vote for bin Hammam over Blatter in June’s presidential elections.
Warner resigned his position before Fifa could investigate him, although he is still under investigation by Trinidadian police. Bin Hammam has denied all wrongdoing, but the evidence against him is strong. The report of the Fifa ethics committee headed by Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb said there was “comprehensive, convincing and overwhelming” proof that bribes had been paid to officials to support bin Hammam’s campaign for the Fifa presidency, and that Warner had facilitated this.
Controversy also surrounds the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Qatar, which is bin Hammam’s country of origin. Warner, before resigning from Fifa, revealed that he had received an email from Fifa’s general secretary, Jerome Valcke, saying: “Hammam thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the World Cup.”
Valcke later confirmed the private email, amid allegations that the Qatari bid team had secured the tournament through bribes involving bin Hammam. But Valcke claimed to have used “a ‘lighter way of expression” in the email, and that his remarks were “taken out of context”. Not everyone believed him.
“The Qatar bid involved egregious corruption. It’s crazy and megalomaniacal to take the game to a country the size of Connectitut. They will have to change the whole country into football pitches. And we don’t even know the reasoning behind the decision because Fifa doesn’t have to explain its decisions.”
Only after the decision was made, did Fifa executives admit that the tournament might have to be switched from June to January. Having accepted Qatar’s promise to build 12 air-conditioned stadiums, the fear is that players or spectators could fry in the 50-degree desert summer temperatures.
But moving the tournament would have major repercussions for competitions like England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A. Those leagues would need to shut down for about two months, requiring a complete re-organisation of the whole world’s football fixtures.
With Fifa making absurd and unaccountable decisions about the World Cup, as well as being mired in accusations of corruption;
Why don’t the world’s football associations challenge Fifa's hegemony?
“The framework of Fifa is totally Catholic, meaning it’s organised around one Pope. That means if you are banned, you are stigmatised. Let’s say the Champions League decided Fifa was corrupt and decided to split off. Fifa would then say, ‘okay, Rooney can no longer play for England, and you’re not even allowed to call the games you play Association Football’. The new league would become a renegade construct. There’s basically no exit from Fifa’s cartel.”
Markovits gave the historical example of the American Soccer League (ASL), which was effectively driven out of business when Fifa excommunicated it back in the 1920s.
“The ASL was more successful than the fledgling NFL in the 1920s and the standard of play was so high they were beating major English and Scottish clubs. But the ASL league decided not to allow its teams to play in the United States Football Association’s Challenge Cup – something like the FA Cup in England.
“Three ASL teams entered anyway, including Bethlehem Steel, and in response, the ASL banned all three for violating league rules.
The USFA asked Fifa for a ruling and Fifa came down on the side of the ASL’s three outlaw clubs, and excommunicated the ASL from international soccer. Basically, the USFA invoked the Pope and sealed the fate of the game in the US. The ASL was forced to become a renegade league. What this example shows is that the power of Fifa’s sanctification is high. Of course, you can’t compare the ASL with the Premiership today but who needs the headaches of having players banned and so on?”
This month saw another clear-cut example of Fifa’s Papal power when its Emergency Committee banned Belize from competing in the qualifiers for the World Cup 2014.
It takes an understanding of Orwellian double-think to appreciate Belize’s “crime”. Basically, Fifa had been backing the local football boss, Dr Bertie Chimilio, for years, but the Belize Government suspected he was a corrupt official.
The Government accused Chimilio of banning opponents from elections so he could remain in perpetual power. They ordered the Football Federation of Belize to publish its accounts and hold transparent elections. When Dr Chimilio refused, the government said his federation “was no longer authorised to represent Belize”.
On June 17, Blatter summoned FIFA’s emergency committee, which ordered the Belize Government to stop “their severe interference”. They banned Belize from playing further World Cup matches until the Government stops “interfering”.
In a recent article about the Belize affair, the British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings - who has done much to expose Fifa’s corrupt practices - wrote: “Who took the decision to suspend Belize? Fifa’s Emergency Committee is comprised of Africa’s Issa Hayatou (under investigation by the IOC for allegedly taking a $30,000 bribe), Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz (accused of taking five bribes totalling $730,000) and Sepp Blatter (accused of forwarding a bribe to former Fifa president Joao Havelange, and also being investigated by the IOC).
“Mohammed nin Hamman couldn’t vote as he is suspended, accused of paying $1 million in bribes in this month’s Fifa presidential election campaign. Oceania’s David Chung is a new member and alongside him is Uefa’s Michel Platini.”
The stance taken by the Belize Government was unusually daring. Few football associations risk incurring Fifa’s wrath and, despite widespread dissatisfaction with Blatter, he ran unopposed for re-election at the start of June.
Grant Wahl, a Sports Illustrated journalist, tried to stand against Blatter, but could not get the backing of a single one of the 208 football associations.
“I knew it would be difficult because nominating is a public act and a small country, which is dependent on Fifa’s money, would risk losing that money if they went against the system. There are all sorts of things in the Fifa system of power which stop people like me being nominated,” he said.
“I spoke to the President of the US soccer federation and it was clear they were not going to nominate me, or anybody else. I got in touch with other associations who are concerned with good governance – such as the Scandinavian ones, and associations who might be unhappy with Fifa as they were not chosen to host the World Cup, such as Australia. But no one would back a rival candidate to Blatter.
“England’s FA was the only one to publically say they were not going to vote for Blatter, even though there was only one candidate. I just wish they had taken a stronger stance and nominated me, or somebody else.”
Wahl’s manifesto included a pledge to “do a WikiLeaks” and release every Fifa internal document to the public. He also intended to use the guidelines of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to investigate corruption.
“But what I’ve learned is that as long as Blatter is bringing in money for Fifa – and they have a $1.2 billion surplus – there’s not that much concern in most countries about the corruption. The recent Fifa Presidential election was covered in the English media, whereas other countries hardly mentioned it.
“But as a journalist I’d like to look more closely at some of Fifa’s developmental programmes and see if the money is really going for soccer projects around the world. Money going into someone’s pocket could be spent on developing the game,” he said.
With the world’s football associations powerless and football fans apathetic, there appears little chance of reform at Fifa.
“The system is designed to let people in power stay in power, so I’m sceptical that Fifa will reform itself. Blatter is talking big and saying he will make changes, but I don’t see this happening unless the corporate sponsors put pressure on Fifa. They will only listen if they have a chance of losing money,” he said.
This is not a forlorn hope. The increasingly negative media coverage, especially in Britain has embarrassed some of Fifa’s billionaire sponsors. The powerful voices of Coca-Cola, Adidas, Emirates and Visa, have all expressed concerns.
A Coca-Cola spokesperson said:
“The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport.”
And a Visa spokesperson added: “The current situation is clearly not good for the game. We ask that Fifa take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised.”
David Smith, EconomyWatch.com