Something rotten in the state of Fifa

by Ian Ford

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

This Thursday we finally find out if England will host the 2018 World Cup. I hope we get it, truly. If ever I start to doubt this, I just think back to when I was nine years old, watching England stuff Holland 4-1 at Euro 96 and the entire country collectively losing its minds in unabashed displays of joy. Holding a World Cup here once more would be special, and deep down I long for it to happen.

And it should happen. On paper at least — to use that cliché beloved of football commentators — England’s bid is the strongest; bearing in mind that the whole point is to host a successful football tournament and not carry some evangelistic message to untouched frontiers (i.e. Qatar and to a lesser extent Russia).

Briefly consider it against its principle rivals. We may have our problems financially, but Spain and Portugal we ain’t. And, while we couldn’t host the tournament tomorrow (three of the 15 named stadia in our bid do not exist yet, and eight of the 12 are included on the basis they will be upgraded), we’re streaks ahead of Russia. Demand? English fans are consistently the biggest, most passionate attendees at tournaments. (In language Fifa and its sponsors can understand, this means guaranteed profits).

But there’s a good chance none of this matters. Which is why we have the unedifying spectacle of David Beckham and our future King flying out to shake hands for votes with pricks like Jack Warner, while our Prime Minister condemns his country’s own free-press.

See, a dark cloud hangs over this whole bidding process. Nope, scrap that, the whole bidding process is the dark cloud. It is garish, corrupt, and elevates far too many side-factors ahead of what is ultimately good for the game. In short, it is a microcosm of everything that is wrong generally with the body that oversees it: Fifa.

Most football-lovers in this country have long suspected that the game’s governing body is riddled with corruption, but the facts have only recently started to emerge. Investigations by The Sunday Times and The BBC have exposed the willingness of serving Fifa committee members to accept bribes, and Fifa’s reaction to these allegations has spoke volumes about its rotten core. While forced to suspend the members caught red handed, they have whined and threw up their hands incessantly about the way in which they were caught; never once, pausing, to consider just how corruption can be exposed without a free press. And, while we’re on the subject, the English press may have its many flaws; but I’ve seldom been as proud of it, or as proud to live in a free, self-critical society, as when Fifa’s big cheeses bleat about it.

There are several things that must change if their bidding process is to regain confidence. First: scrap the secret ballot. Second: make it shorter. Third: never again combine the voting for two World Cup bids, as is happening this time for 2018 and 2022 because Fifa wanted to maximise sponsorship deals. These are all just invitations to collusion and corruption.

Furthermore, there are things that need to change more generally about Fifa, such as bringing in fixed-terms for its committee membership. The average age of an exec is 64, with more than half the members in the same seats for more than a decade. Blatter, for his part, seems to want to go on and on and on. This just creates an environment of patronage and complacency.

So, while I fully hope we get 2018, I’m not holding my breath. This is not to say that, if we don’t get it, the reason is we were cheated by a corrupt process. That would be childish and illogical. But, as long as the process remains as obtuse as it currently is, I have little confidence in it and nobody can know the truth.

Change it Blatter, for the good of the game. We know how much you love that slogan of yours — so live by it for a change.

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