The first of what you’ll not be surprised to learn will be a weekly series commenting on dramatic plot developments at football’s world governing body, which are currently running at Australian soap opera levels of frequency and implausibility…I’m told by someone who watches Australian soaps. Because I don’t. Oh no.
In August, American-based British satirist John Oliver called Fifa “an international crime syndicate that occasionally organises soccer matches.” Oliver has not yet, to my knowledge, been taken to legal task for this statement. Possibly because his weekly HBO show Last Week Tonight is not a regular watch at Fifa’s HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. Or because Fifa might consider the risks of losing such action outweigh any potential gain. The show has run a number of Fifa features, all on YouTube and very worth watching, since June 2014, most notably his trading of paid-for television adverts on Trinidad TV with former Fifa vice-president the repugnant Jack Warner. A very close second was Oliver’s promise to neck a bottle of beer’s Warner equivalent, Bud Light Lime, if Fifa’s major American sponsors helped force president Sepp Blatter’s resignation, and to say on camera, that the drink was delicious, a lie even Blatter wouldn’t tell.
Blatter’s June decision to “lay down his mandate” was enough to get Oliver on the Bud (and one woman’s amazement at the beach party mocked-up in the studio for the occasion as Oliver kept his promise suggested that the drink really is dreadful). Although, as we now know, reports of Blatter’s demise were a little exaggerated and Oliver could legitimately have delayed his taste-bud sacrifice. Oliver’s latest update exposed the insanity of Fifa’s current power struggle. He hugely disapproved of Blatter’s “ludicrously short” 90-day suspension by Fifa’s ethics committee (“if you put a Greek yoghurt in the fridge the day he was suspended, it could conceivably still be edible when he gets back”), perhaps misinterpreting the suspension as punishment itself.
Most potential temporary replacements were suspended because, Oliver exclaimed, “of course they are.” Eventual replacement Issa Hayatou also faced corruption allegations because, Oliver exclaimed, “of course he did.” His audience, better-versed in Fifa politics than they could have imagined a year ago, accepted these outbursts as explaining everything because of course they do. And, Oliver concluded, finding potential Blatter successors from within “Fifa’s own ranks” equated to portakabins at music festivals: “None of them are likely to be clean, so the best you are hoping for is to find the one that is the least covered in s**t.” Andrew Jennings couldn’t have put it better.
Yet remarkably, many people and organisations still believe in Uefa president Michel Platini and Blatter. Well…Blatter still believes in Blatter. Platini still has Uefa support, sort of, although this only stretches to his “right to a due process and a fair trial” (one assumes there was no support for his right to an unfair trial). When Platini’s suspension was announced, his lawyers claimed he “had not had the possibility to defend himself.” But the Committee said they heard him “for five hours…with the hearing documented over 50 pages.” Uefa are apparently considering backing another candidate. And its Secretary-General Gianni Infantino noted, if football cannot provide “a viable candidate…there is a big problem in football.” “Well, quite,” tweeted the Guardian newspaper’s Owen Gibson. “Well, yes, exactly” tweeted the Times’ Oliver Kay.
Our own FA, with all the class and nous chairman Greg Dyke could muster, supported Platini’s Fifa presidential bid until “confidential information relating to the…case from Mr. Platini’s lawyers” dictated that they “must suspend” it. South America’s Football confederation, CONMEBOL still “fully believes in Mr. Platini’s capacity to lead Fifa and the football world towards a brighter future,” calling his suspension “untimely and disproportionate” (no Greek yoghurt analogies from these people) and added that “the presumption of innocence is a fundamental right.” So CONMEBOL’s credibility on such matters is undiminished by its dominance of the list of indicted Fifa officials in May.
Blatter told Swiss Sunday newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag that “they can destroy me but they cannot destroy my life’s work,” while, like Platini’s lawyer, Blatter’s “legal team” sought to discredit the Ethics Committee, while they struggled to be heard above an irony klaxon. The Committee had “based its decision on a misunderstanding of the actions of the Attorney General in Switzerland” and “did not give (Blatter) a chance to be heard” as provided for by Fifa’s “Code of Ethics and Disciplinary Code.” According to the New York Times newspaper, Blatter’s formal appeal also noted the “brusque and unfair treatment” he received (cue the irony klaxon again) and his legal team’s demands to see the committee’s “case file.”
“The biter bit,” you may think. Blatter’s current situation is the dictionary definition of the “boot” being on “the other foot.” And there’ll be plenty of suggestions as this story develops as to where that boot could be usefully inserted. Meanwhile, suspensions continue. At this rate, the highest-ranking available official will soon be a clerk in the stationery department (“from paper-clips to president”). Observers have noted that Fifa’s Ethics Committee appear to be working through the infamously-unpublished “Garcia report” into 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process corruption allegations, in which case Hayatou’s reign could prove very temporary indeed.
On Monday, Worawi Makudi, Thai former executive committee member (pattern fully-developed already), received a “Blatter”, a 90-day suspension, because “a breach of the Ethics Code appears to have been committed,” a phrase we may soon all know off by heart, as it joins football’s lexicon of shame alongside “material uncertainty which may cast doubt over the company’s ability to exist as a going concern.” Makudi produced a stock response. In 2011, the repugnant Warner told his ethics committee hearing “I don’t know why I am here.” Fellow Fifa vice-president Mohamed Bin Hammam also “didn’t know why I am here.” Makudi may yet say the same thing, as he claimed to be “confused by this. I have no idea why Fifa issued such a suspension order.” If ignorance really is bliss, it’s a wonder these bastards ever stop laughing. He should have some idea, though, as a claim that he asked England’s 2018 World Cup bid team for the television rights to a potential Thailand v England friendly was made public to a UK parliamentary committee by one-time bid leader Lord David Triesmann in 2011. As campaign group NewFifaNow tweeted about Makudi’s mental chaos: “The rest of us are not confused.”
While Blatter, Platini and two million Swiss Francs covered the headlines, the sole British citizen among May’s indictees, former Cayman Islands FA official Costas Takkas, had his extradition from Switzerland to the United States approved. Likewise fellow indictee Julio Rocha, whose subsequent onward extradition to his native Nicaragua was simultaneously approved. Pity he can’t take advantage of the air miles. And, smothered by the general furore was former South African FA bigwig Lindile Kika’s six-year ban from football activity. Big news ordinarily. A relative side-show this week. The potential and actual presidential field grew this week too. Controversial former Fifa General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen has been “checking the feasibility” of a bid to see “if it makes sense,” and, presumably if it doesn’t make sense, he’ll…run. Then May’s runner-up and ex-Blatter loyalist Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein formally submitted his bid.
However, “sources” say Prince Ali will face West Asian opposition from Bahraini Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifah. The Asian Football Confederation chief said only a fortnight ago that “the thought of being a candidate in 2016 had not crossed my mind,” which should have alerted observers to the certainty of his bid. His candidacy has infuriated human rights organisations who claimed the Al Khalifah family oversaw “a campaign of torture and mass incarceration” after Bahraini pro-democracy protests in 2011. Salman “vehemently” refuted contemporary allegations of identifying protesting footballers, claiming: “No action has been taken under my direction against any member of the football community,” which wasn’t quite the accusation. But he is backed by Fifa Executive Committee member and “Asian sports powerbroker” Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait…that’s the Kuwait whose FA has just been suspended by Fifa for their inability to “carry out their activities and obligations independently.” Well, at least they haven’t sold any votes or fixed any matches. I hope.
Meanwhile, those repelled by the concept of a prince battling with a sheikh for control of the “people’s game,” can back the Jeremy Corbyn/Bernie Sanders candidature of ex-Trinidad &Tobago midfielder David Nakhid. Nakhid is not Jack Warner, which would itself garner significant support among ordinary electorates, although he did play 12 times for Warner’s on-field vanity project “Joe Public FC” when it started life in the TT Pro League in 1997. And his put down of Prince Ali was a doozy: “He’s been head of his own association for 16 years by decree, what can he tell us about reform?” However, Fifa Congress is no ordinary electorate, as past results confirm. And his football administration experience, running a football academy in Lebanon, doesn’t scream “man for the job,” even if this non-experience leaves him untainted by the pervading scandals.
But back to Platini and Blatter. Platini’s excuses (explanations would attach too much credibility to his efforts) for the £1.35m he received from Fifa in February 2011 continue to crumble under media scrutiny. Not always fairly, mind. He said he wasn’t paid timeously for work he completed by 2002 because, as Blatter had told him “when I started my role” in 1998, “it was not initially possible to pay the totality of my salary because of Fifa’s financial situation at that time.” Critics immediately noted that Fifa declared £78m profits on £1.8bn income for the 1998-2002 World Cup cycle and that Fifa accounts said they took “the correct steps to ensure that every obligation was fulfilled on time and in its entirety.” This, though, displayed a touching faith in what “Fifa said.”
These “steps” were world-famously controversial, involving the, cough, “use” of future income to fill financial black holes. The afore-mentioned Zen-Ruffinen staked, and lost, his Fifa career on the issue, which nevertheless pushed Blatter as close to enforced resignation as he currently is…with current acting Fifa president Hayatou reportedly among the pushers. Nevertheless, the ice under Platini’s feet continues to thin. His £1.35m claim should have lapsed under Swiss law in 2007. And there was no “written agreement” covering this specific payment. In a statement beyond parody, Blatter said his “contract” with Platini was “a gentleman’s agreement.” Unlikely that, as a “gentleman’s agreement” usually requires at least one “gentleman.”
And the dance goes on. Newly-published testimony given to US investigators by indicted Brazilian sports marketing executive Jose Hawilla says he made $151m from four football broadcasting deals over 18 months during 2012 and 2013. And Hawilla has promised more such revelations. Oh…and there’s an emergency Fifa Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, which will debate proposals to publish details of Ethics Committee investigations. Blatter wanted this delayed until December. For some reason. Still, at least there are no more allegations of financial skullduggery around bids to host World Cu…what?…oh, you’re kidding…
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