The US Department of Justice recently published claims that a former FIFA President was bribed by a ‘Russian oligarch’ with the aim of securing Russia the rights to host the 2018 World Cup.
It should have been news that found itself splashed across every front page but it wasn’t. It should have been part of the national conversation but it wasn’t. Instead we shrugged and went about our day. It was FIFA; an organisation with a tawdry recent history of corruption exposed. It involved Russia; a country handed a four-year ban earlier this month from all major sporting events by the World Anti-Doping Agency. It concerned a tournament costing but also worth billions of pounds.
We are cynical enough these days to know that such things occur.
Yet should there be any xenophobic strands to our apathy it should be recalled that on December 15th 1998 – 21 years ago – England’s leading football authority had its own scandal to bear, also involving a bribe.
With England desperate to host the 2006 World Cup it was felt within the corridors of power at Lancaster Gate that to have an Englishman elected onto FIFA’s Executive Council would be extremely beneficial and conveniently there was a Vice-Presidency up for grabs. So far, so fine.
But then it was alleged that a secret loan of £3.2m had been arranged to the Welsh FA in order to further advance this aim by means of votes going their way. It became known snappily as the ‘cash for votes scandal’.
Swiftly the furore that accompanied its exposure brought down Graham Kelly, the FA’s Chief Executive and arguably the most familiar face in the organisation due to his long-term presiding over televised cup draws. After a decade as one of the most influential figures in the domestic game he was gone.
Next to fall on his sword was FA Chairman Keith Wiseman though it necessitated a vote of no confidence to prompt his eventual resignation. On the news breaking the most powerful man within the organisation was indignant at having to field accusations and anger emanating from the public. Such loans, he said were ‘commonplace’ and there was ‘nothing wrong or unusual’ in offering financial assistance to the FAW. A matter of weeks later he too stepped down.
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That was in early January in what was a somewhat tumultuous time for the FA as they additionally fended off strong criticism for their leaning on Manchester United to withdraw from that year’s FA Cup so they could compete in the World Club Championships. Of course in this instance there was no suggestion of malfeasance but again increasing their chances of hosting the World Cup was the motivation and again they faced a barrage of flak.
Perhaps we shouldn’t forget either the more recent scandal that rocked the FA with lessons clearly not learnt as they attempted to secure the rights to the 2018 World Cup. In 2017 it emerged via a FIFA report that our game’s governing body had gone to great lengths in this regard, even dangling the possibility of meeting the Queen to FIFA Executives.
Should there be any truth to this week’s revelations concerning a former FIFA President and a Russian oligarch that is to be condemned of course. But only without piety for when it comes to sporting scandals the English have often led the way.