They say emotion is the nemesis of good analysis but I simply can’t contain my feelings towards FIFA’s ongoing corruption scandal, which has so far seen eight officials arrested, five more indicted and four enter guilty pleas as the investigations of the Swiss authorities and FBI continue – not to mention force the draconian Sepp Blatter into a shock resignation just days after his re-election as president of world football’s governing body.
Of course, rumoured corruption in FIFA has been well documented for the best part of two decades and the allegations have gone into overdrive since Qatar were officially awarded the 2022 World Cup five years ago. The FBI’s fraud and laundering investigation started way back in 2011.
But the arrests in Zurich, in which several FIFA officials were whisked from their hotel beds in the early hours of Wednesday 27th of May to face the possibility of extradition to the USA, in combination with the figure of $150million doing the rounds in the press, really put things into perspective.
Because whilst your local football club struggles to afford adequate changing room facilities, whilst grassroots football across the continent dies yet another death, whilst the stadiums of Serie A have been left to crumble as their corroding bricks become ad hoc weapons for the ultras, whilst the global credit crunch leaves La Liga facing the biggest collective debt in their history, whilst 1,200 slave labourers die building stadiums in Qatar, these furtive FIFA fellows have been skimming off the top; stepping over non-league football and dead bodies on the way to the ivory back-scratcher shop.
It cannot be overstated, exaggerated or expressed too hyperbolically – believe me, I’ve tried – this is truly the most despicable, dishonest and treacherous act in the history of the beautiful game.
Of all football fans across the world, not even 1% will get the chance to work with or for FIFA in some capacity. To everyday people like you and me, it is an incredible honour; the opportunity to positively impact a sport that so many people forge their whole lives around, that creates harmony between divided nations, that binds complete strangers spanning Bristol to Beijing.
Yet Jack Warner, Jeffrey Webb, Aaron Davidson, Costas Takkas, the rest of the 14 men in the FBI’s crosshairs and their merry band of yet-to-be-revealed accomplices have turned working for FIFA and the organisation itself into something detestably sinister. A boys club of back-slappers continually selling out football for their own financial gain.
There’s a sickening irony in the fact it’s football – a phenomena that when reduced to its most basic state is purely two sets of jumpers laid ten feet apart on either side of a patch of grass – they’ve been ripping off; not the tax-payer, not the corporations, not even the consumer. Simply anybody who has a vested interest in the progression of a sport that belongs to everyone, by letting bribes control the direction its now heading in.
Worryingly, logic suggests this is only the tip of the ice-berg. In my opinion, it’s quite clear there’s a corruption culture at the top end of FIFA – not just a few bad apples. Those who have been questioned so far are for crimes the FBI feel capable of proving in a court of law; there are undoubtedly many more squeezing through loopholes and sneaking under the radar to avoid prosecution.
And you have to wonder the true motivation behind Blatter’s resignation. He’s never shown much consideration for the wider footballing public before, as long as his African and Asian voting blocs remain onside, so the mentioning of mandate in his speech yesterday afternoon is a little hard to swallow – he hasn’t had a legitimate, global mandate for years. It’s a final act straight from the Richard Nixon handbook, a bid to remove himself from the equation before any more wrongdoing is unearthed.
So here’s to you, Blatter, Warner and company, the men who committed the biggest and greatest atrocity in footballing history; the men who let greed turn the beautiful game ugly; the men who lead the most popular sport in the world down any route that lined their pockets the most abundantly; the men who happily shared out $150million that could’ve made a huge impact to fans, footballers, clubs and leagues across the globe between themselves.
If there’s one positive to take from this, it’s the knowledge that FIFA’s politic and practices will be handled with far more scrutiny in the years to come. But the embarrassment of what the organisation has become, the manner in which it’s betrayed the sport it represents, will never quite wash off.