Over the past few years, there have been different levels of condemnation regarding the financial undoing of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Many accusations are targeted at the corridors of its Zürich headquarters or expansively across the world where 209 national associations occupy offices or control thousands of dollars annually; much of which have been approved subventions to their member associations.
Amidst these insinuations and criticisms, which are heard from some of the major footballing experts in several renowned countries, chants such as – “FIFA is Corrupt!” or “Blatter must go!” – are rife and vociferous.
But with such claims, there must be concrete evidence. It is interesting to observe that countries like Britain and almost all the football magnates like Spain, Germany, Holland, France, Italy and other prominent members of UEFA, seem to know much more than the rest of us regarding the wrongdoing of FIFA’s Executive Committee – of which some of their own members are engaged.
Rumors of devious marketing deals have surfaced, and will continue to, with reference to television rights for the World Cup. This has been ongoing since the 1982 edition in Spain. I had opportunity to actually follow the activities of the West Germany (1974) and Argentina (1978) World Cup contests, from a superficial viewpoint, mainly on the field of play and sometimes in discussions with experienced media personnel who shared the same venues during the tournament with all journalists.
There were no fairytale stories to expose FIFA in any way and the only one I could recall was the isolated incident that occurred in 1973 when three World Cup officials faced the ruling body for some ridiculous decisions during the Trinidad and Tobago (TT) 2-1 away defeat to Haiti.
FIFA investigated the incident where TT scored five goals (all appearing legitimate according to the commentators and analysts on the day) only to unbelievably see goal after goal waived off. FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee found the officials guilty as they offered the excuse that their lives would be under threat if Haiti did not win.
FIFA banned the officials – one permanently and the other two for a few years each. However, they did not change the result of the game and Haiti made their initial entry to the World Cup in West Germany a year later.
That apart, not much was heard until the International Sport and Leisure (ISL) marketing fiasco during 2008 to 2012, which also produced no definitive solution. Many pundits are looking back in hindsight to find the point of inception of this rumoured corruption. They scavenge for the root cause, which has left FIFA in its current predicament. A few names stand out on tracing back to 1974.
The reign of the 7th FIFA president began with former Brazilian Olympic swimmer, Dr. Joao Havelange, taking over the reins from Sir Stanley Rous of England in a smooth transition. He contributed immensely to the development of the game. He started the age-group competitions, turning them into a wonderful precursor to the senior World Cup and allowing the youngsters to flourish. As time passed, every aspect of FIFA expanded, from the youth programs to the marketing prospects, which brought revenue and increased the membership.
I met Havelange back in 1991 and had the greatest respect for the manner in which he dealt with his associations. Note that this observation was made without me being aware of the mechanism with which FIFA was actually conducting their affairs. The working relationship between Havelange and Sepp Blatter, a man many saw as his successor, seem to find favour with the football universe and nothing was heard about corruption, bribery, money laundering and other illegal acts.
Havelange eventually opted out his position of power when the aforementioned ISL investigations started. I believe that he felt uncomfortable with the aroma of rumours and decided to gradually make room for someone else.
And thus, started the era of Blatter in 1998. The man who became FIFA’s general secretary in 1981 took over from his mentor. Blatter was faced with a congress, which was more interested in the happenings of world football’s leading administrative body. Many key players from the lesser-developed countries tried to rub shoulders with the big shots for a place in the inner circle of FIFA.
I believe that the smell of power and large sums of money were the major instigators in the quest for misguided personnel ascending the FIFA hierarchy – or aspiring to. No one really cared who did what at that level, as all appeared smooth on the surface. But the problems that have emanated recently appear to have been growing rapidly underground, for quite some time. And because of the structure of global football, the most difficult job of a FIFA president would be to keep tabs on all the administrators in the confederations, especially where their autonomous policies were not clearly defined.
The issue of corruption entangling major sporting bodies and governing entities isn’t a foreign concept and was initially hinted to the rest of the world in the 2002 Winter Olympics bid scandal. This was one in which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) found themselves embroiled deeply. There were financial blunders in this Salt Lake City drama; all recognized by some of the finest investigators of sport in the media, ushering in a larger microscope and even more scrutiny of FIFA’s behaviour.
And now…here we are. The obvious remarks should revolve around the lethargy of FIFA, who failed to cement rigid financial policies, which could have been monitored by the Executive Committee. This autonomy left an opportunity for those who saw loopholes and avenues to capitalize on. Unchecked corrupt practices allegedly followed with funds funneled into various pockets without the related member association even recognizing the processes.
Now, the die has been cast and name-calling in public has become the curse of some individuals – some of whom were closest to the FIFA hierarchy. Fair is fair. This investigation is justified. Not so much to penalize the guilty ones but to correct the financial meandering and hinder the desires of others who want to conduct similar malpractices. Unfortunately, the focus has been placed upon CONCACAF and the Caribbean region, where it appears as though the evidence for legal solutions are most visible. Our people moan over the shame of our native sons accused while the world decides to lay blame at the feet of Blatter and his Executive Committee. We must hope that the investigation widens its wings as far as it can.
Before going into the details of the named persons who fall into the category of corruption, bribery, money laundering, mammoth marketing deals and all other misdemeanours with other influential FIFA personnel, let us not speculate about the happenings. The pain is already serious to some families and close friends. As a Caribbean nation, the revelations concerning two football administrators from this region, both involved in the upper echelons of FIFA’s hierarchy, have clearly opened a can of worms for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to dig their teeth into. Oddly enough, these accusations would not deter member associations from continuing with their presidential voting at the end of May 2015.
In a flash, and with little opposition from the 39 year-old Jordanian, Prince Ali bin Hussein, Blatter was voted back to the presidential chair. The 63 year-old Swiss gained 133 votes to al-Hussein’s 73 in the first round of voting; not enough to secure a two-thirds majority. But the challenger still decided to concede defeat. Michel Platini and his UEFA executive members decided to continue the campaign urging the president to resign as they were disappointed by the results. They even threatened to pull out of FIFA and cause a separation in the game, which would probably have done more harm than good. In the midst of Blatter’s joyous moments of being re-elected, another story broke from the South African Football Association purporting that they had given a large sum of money to CONCACAF president, Jack Warner, to assist with development.
South Africa did not conceal the information and emphatically stated that they did nothing wrong, although public perceptions and mainstream media were throwing around words such as ‘bribes’ and ‘kickbacks’. Many thought that this might have been the crucial moment to challenge Blatter because the monetary gift was suspiciously passed through Jérôme Valcke (FIFA’s General Secretary since 2007) to Warner. Valcke drew new moths to the flames given that he’s a Blatter loyalist. As days elapsed and the media buzz heightened around Blatter’s new term, it’s safe to assume that the pressure was far too intense as he shocked the world and resigned on June 2.
Corporate sponsors were touted as potential pressure points, adding to the influx of ‘secrets’ now being disclosed regarding FIFA’s operations. ‘Whistleblowers’ were now being mentioned with prevalence in the media. Warner was also preparing to ‘take the gloves off’ while engaging in verbal banter with HBO comedian, John Oliver, while tussling with his political role in TT.
Blatter steered clear of going into specifics surrounding his resignation and the other players on the chessboard but managed to divulge that a special election would be held between December 2015 and March 2016 to appoint his successor. “FIFA needs profound restructuring. Although members have given me the new mandate, this mandate does not seem to be supported by everyone. We will hold an extraordinary conference as soon as possible. A new president will be elected,” he revealed.
Immediately, the media regained interest in al-Hussein, as well as Platini, both of whom wished that they could hold Blatter’s prestigious position. There’s nothing wrong with their ambition but bear in mind that these men, together with the 2015 Dutch nominee, Michael van Praag (a UEFA Executive Committee member who pulled out mere days before Blatter’s latest reappointment), were all part of FIFA’s inner-working for some time. It can be assumed that they were well aware of these allegations then that sully the organization’s name and public face now.
It opens questions as to why these members did not raise these issues, which are being challenged at present. Surely, many things went wrong and the international media have exposed a number of them over the years, but would it not have been decent if these guys had come up and taken their own action…before things escalated and reached this current stage?
As the breaking news continue to reach us rapidly, let us all take a step back and carefully analyze whether there is need for change in FIFA. If so, is it the change of personnel more than it is the despicable illegal practices? How will these same people who have been involved in FIFA for so many years be trusted to do the right thing now? Were they turning a blind eye while they were involved as years rolled by? Patience is a virtue. I shall wait.