It is the truth that we knew all along. The question is not one of whether FIFA is institutionally corrupt, but one of exactly how corrupt it is, and the answer to that question is likely to be somewhere between “very” and “completely”. The question of Jack Warner’s lack of propriety was, of course, never in question, but it always seemed possible that he was simply the FIFA ExCo member with the loosest mouth. Perhaps, we could rationalise, he retained his position for so long. Now, though, both he and Mohamed bin Hammam have been ousted from their positions, and Warner is threatening to blow the lid off what has actually been going on in Zurich over the last few months and years.
His first step was the release of an email, in which FIFA’s Jérôme Valcke discussed the decision of Bin Hammam not to stand against Sepp Blatter in the race for the FIFA presidency. “If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express how much he does not like anymore JSB [Blatter]. Or he thought you can buy Fifa as they [Qatar] bought the WC”, it read, damning words which have already been confirmed as genuine by Valcke, although he did qualify this by claiming that it has been quoted selectively. It’s a good job that the full version of this email has found its way into the hands of the media, then. Warner, meanwhile, claims that this release is “child’s play” compared to what is to follow, and that he will unleash a “football tsunami” – a tactless choice of phrase, perhaps, but when has Jack Warner ever been noted for his tact? Valcke, meanwhile, has subsequently claimed that, “what I wanted to say is [Qatar] used their financial strength to lobby for support”, which is, it has to be said, a less than convincing response to the obvious questions that the email raises in the first place.
This initial allegation is clear enough – that Qatar (who were also involved in allegations of vote-sharing with Spain in the run-up to the votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups) behaved improperly in paying off ExCo members to secure votes, and that this was known about at the very top of the organisation. We shall have to wait and see whether Valcke passes comment on the subject of what he said in this email. There have, however, also been further allegations made already by Warner. He has stated that Blatter distributed gifts to Football Associations in the Caribbean (presumably the inference is that they were to be in return for votes in the forthcoming FIFA presidential election) and that Blatter gave an substantial amount of money – $1m – to CONCACAF fromFIFA’s Goal development initiative, the inference again being that this was money that was being used to buy votes from member FAs. Moreover, it has been reported that Michel Platini, the UEFA President, had expressed his unhappiness at this money being made available without the appropriate authorisation of FIFA’s finance committee.
We shall have to wait and see what further revelations come from Warner, and what denials (if any) FIFA makes of them. What is clear, however, is that this is an organisation that is destroying itself from within. Some have already questioned whether it is tenable for the 2022 tournament to be held in Qatar, given the accusations that have already been made. If this is being said already, further accusations – particularly if sustantiable – would not only throw the hosting of this tournament into doubt, but would also throw the authority of FIFA into considerable doubt in a more general sense. There are plenty of organisations and individuals that could seek to destroy FIFA altogether, and it seems unlikely that many of them would be working for altruistic reasons.
Tensions between clubs and national associations have been high for some considerable time. Who is to say that the coup d’etat won’t come from a cabal of the biggest clubs and television companies that these clubs already work so harmoniously with? And who is to say that a post-FIFA carve up of the world game wouldn’t be tailor-made to suit them and them alone? As such, we should be careful what we wish for. The removal of those that have may been using and abusing international football for their own ends remains as desirable as it ever has, but the black hole that a fundamentally and permanently enfeebled FIFA would bring could be dangerous for the world game as we understand it now.
Perhaps the best chance of some sort of meaningful change that doesn’t end up tearing the game as we know it now limb from limb comes with the likes of Change FIFA. They have a five point agenda of institutional matters that the organisation must take on board if it is to adapt and survive. Whether FIFA will take any notice of this is questionable – they have applied nothing but a veneer of change since it became apparent that something was horribly, horribly wrong at the top end of world football governance – but there can be little doubt that the pressure is growing. This isn’t, as FIFA initially tried to claim, merely the British press trying to extract some sort of “revenge” after the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia. It’s much bigger than that flawed hypothesis could The stakes are as high as they could possibly be and, rather than attempting to sweep this under the carpet, FIFA needs to appreciate that the only way that it can survive is to tackle these allegations and weed out everybody associated with them. It is time for FIFA’s “Salt Lake City moment”.
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