Looking for an in-depth investigation into the dark heart of FIFA? You’re in the wrong place, for now, at least. This is an excellent primer into the whys and wherefores of the culture that has led to today’s extraordinary events. Looking for a summary of the background to the specific charges brought today? Have a look here. Looking for the full fat, 160-page plus indictment of world football’s governing body? Well, have a look at this. In the meantime, here’s a brief primer for what now – and quite suddenly – looks like being one of world football’s stories of the summer.
If you close your eyes for a moment or two, you can picture the most delicious of scenes. A hotel in Zurich on a bright early summer’s morning, silent apart from the humming of the air conditioning system, the staff, quietly and diligently getting on with the business of setting up the air of studied, tasteful neutrality so distinctive of hotels all over the globe, the arrival of the police, muttered conversations in guest room doorways, other guests – including many journalists, all present and correct for what was due to be the main event at the end of this week – poking their heads into the corridors, trying to figure out what on earth might be going on at such an ungodly hour of the morning. Finally, some mildly bewildered elderly and middle-aged men are led away to begin talking – really talking – about what has been going on behind the seemingly permanently closed doors of the Federation of International Football Associations over a period of time that may stretch back as far as a quarter of a century.
We want definitive answers immediately, of course, but it seems likely that we’ll have to be patient. Investigations of this nature are invariably lengthy, drawn out affairs containing acres of minutiae that are barely comprehensible. Across the world, football writers from legal, economic and political backgrounds are jostling for position at the start of the race to become the one trustworthy voice of what may well turn out to be the most pivotal moment in the history of global football governance since the very foundation of FIFA in 1904. And the stakes could hardly be higher, for all concerned. For those in pursuit of the alleged wrongdoers, failure to achieve the desired result is not an option. For those being pursued, prison sentences are a very real possibility in the event of successful prosecutions. Even for those of us peering in from the outside, there is a very real chance that the events of this morning and this afternoon might yet come to radically change the very nature of international football governance, and in turn – quite possibly, at least – world football itself.
At least no-one could accuse the FBI or the IRS of obfuscation in terms of the language used in relation to the charges brought today. “They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest. Instead they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves,” said the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, at a news conference in New York this afternoon. “They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.” Meanwhile, Richard Weber of the IRS might have strayed a little close to cliché in stating that, “This really is the World Cup of fraud and today we are issuing FIFA a red card,” but the message from the authorities was loud and clear – the gravy train that FIFA has become over the last two decades or more must surely now be reaching the long overdue end of its line. The governing body of world football, its reputation already close to being in tatters after years of a drip, drip, dripping of allegations made against it, can now only survey that reputation as being a pile of flaming ruins. Without reform that it shown no interest in pushing forward of its own accord, it has no credibility left to defend.
But what of Teflon Sepp, though? He was not amongst those arrested today, after all, and there are no guarantees that he personally will be implicated as details of the charges brought against other FIFA-related individuals come, finally, to light. At the time of writing, there don’t seem to be any plans to postpone his accession to yet another four years in charge of the organisation, and the very notion of honourably falling upon his own sword as the individual ultimately responsible for its running and management seem to be completely alien concepts to him. This time, however, it really does feel as if there’s something in the air that no amount of hand-wringing will be able to fully remedy. Blatter learnt from Joao Havelange, the master of the dark arts of the sort of backroom deals that seem to now have been fully exposed under the harshest of glares. Anybody with so much as a cursory interest in the politics of world football already knows that he has the hide of an elephant with regard to this sort of allegation, to the point of shamelessness. Indeed, FIFA’s PR machine has already spent a part of today somewhat incredulously trying to claim that today’s events were somehow a part of their strategy to rid the organisation of corruption. The well that used to contain any vestiges of the benefit of the doubt, however, now only contains fumes and even those will most likely evaporate should those arrested this morning find the vocal aspect of their self-preservation instincts start to kick in.
On one level, it feels almost counter-intuitive to be standing on the sidelines supporting the likes of the FBI and the IRS. We shouldn’t, however, understate the service that American lawmakers have given us over the course of their investigations and actions, and neither should we allow ourselves, supporters of clubs and of the game itself, to swallow the narrative that we should somehow feel ashamed at our involvement with it. Many supporters have been clamouring for the sort of decisive action taken this morning in Zurich for years. The overall picture of the story to have emerged so explosively today is one that has been shouted loudly from many different sources for a considerable amount of time, and those that exposed the rougher drafts of what we have been hearing so much about today were frequently dismissed and ridiculed by those that have been eating so much unconvincing humble pie in press conferences over the course of this afternoon and this evening. We’ll be back to discuss the details of the allegations made over the course of what will doubtlessly be a long summer for FIFA. For now, though, we should celebrating the fact that perhaps, just perhaps, this boil on the side of the side of the most popular sport in the world may finally be lanced. The indefensible governors might finally be set to receive their comeuppance.
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