Monday, December 13, 2010

FIFA part deux...

As England's 2018 World Cup bid CEO Andy Anson quickly found out, luck had nothing to do with it...

(This is part II of my rant about how horribly corrupt the business side of the Beautiful game is. You can view part I here.)

The first major problem, in retrospect, was something I noticed while listening to ESPNsoccernet as they discussed the 2022 decision a few days before it was made. At some point in the broadcast they pointed out that the Qatar was getting the best odds to win from bookies.

Then one of the “experts” chimed in that, considering everything he’d seen, this was news to him, “unless they know something we don’t.”

It was meant as a joke, yet looking back now it was alarmingly prophetic. Bookies understand the logic of FIFA better than objective soccer experts. It was as if they judged the bids the same way an impressionable 8 year old might’ve. They went for the shiny colors of “something new.”

Indeed, that’s been the general strategy since Sepp Blatter became the FIFA President. Japan/Korea was the first Asian World Cup. South Africa was the first African World Cup. Russia will be the first time the Cup’s been in Eastern Europe and Qatar will be the first Middle Eastern World Cup.

Is that the only factor though? Is that the decisive factor? As Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger quipped, it was a decision that wasn’t weighed at all with reality.

While we can only speculate about what actually goes on behind the scenes, there are a couple of very suspicious factors in play.

Consider that Mohammad Bin Hamman, the President of the Asian Football Conference (AFC) is a very powerful man. In fact he’s so powerful that recently the topic of him running to replace Sepp Blatter as the head of FIFA was discussed. And they were serious.

Consider also that Mr. Bin Hamman renounced any perceived ambitions to become FIFA President recently, very recently in fact. Could the fate of his nation’s World Cup bid have had some connection to this?

That we’re even talking about this is ridiculous of course, but it’s merely a byproduct of the fact that everything FIFA does is so secretive. They’re about as transparent as a Goldman Sachs board meeting (aka a meeting of the Federal Reserve).

And I don’t think we’re being unreasonable wondering about the legitimacy of FIFA because, after all, there is a long track record:

Joao Havelange: Former FIFA president from 1974-1998, linked with many nefarious activities including a cash for contracts scheme with FIFA sponsorships.

Jack Warner: Current FIFA Vice President and CONCACAF President (which is the region the U.S. is part of), has been guilty of numerous corruption charges including meddling with 2006 World Cup player bonuses for Trinidad and Tobago (his home country), embezzling money for Trinidad and Tobago’s FA and selling other tickets on the black market.

Ricardo Texieira: Brazilian Football Confederation President, has had his hand firmly entrenched in the cookie jar of a number of illegal activities including the taking of bribes in determining World Cup TV rights.

(And this doesn’t even include the numerous other officials and prominent members of the executive committee who have been directly linked to taking bribes like Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii.)

Part of the problem is that FIFA answers only to Swiss courts (since their headquarters are based in Zurich, Switzerland). Almost unbelievably, there aren’t technically any laws against bribery. This is true because FIFA is a “non-profit” sporting entity and is therefore exempt from Switzerland’s anti-corruption laws, last updated in 2006.

It’s a loophole. A very, very clever one. And don’t take my word for it. More than 40 other international sporting organization are based in Switzerland, including the International Olympic Committee. Coincidence? 

All you need to do is look at the blatant scandal with selecting Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics and you get an answer.

And then there’s the total aloofness of Sepp Blatter, who addressed the charges of his organization’s corruption like a classic politician feigning perfect innocence: “I’ll say it clearly there is no systematic corruption at FIFA. That’s nonsense. We are financially clean and transparent.” After everything that’s been shown (and everything I’ve mentioned is indisputable fact) you’d think he might acknowledge some flaws, but he knows there aren’t going to be serious repercussions, so why tell the truth?

Yet I suppose I’m really not shocked at this point. After everything that’s been shown, the most illogical conclusion is often the most logical when it comes to FIFA, their infrastructure, their decision-making and, ultimately, their policies. (Look at how they recently left the all-conquering Wesley Sneider off their shortlist for the Ballon D'Or award.)

The most sobering realization in this process is that with the 2022 failure, the next time I might possibly see a World Cup in America is 2026. I’ll be almost 40 fucking years old! But hey, I wouldn’t count on 2026 because the Chinese are said to be making a bid. And even though that would be extremely illogical (since it would mean back to back Asian World Cups), that seems exactly like the kind of illogical logic FIFA’s destined to subscribe to!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The absolute last word on FIFA and its eerie similarities to James Bond bad guys...

Two men who have Nixonian secrets in those tiny little brains of theirs.

(This is one of my more bitter rants. They say such things aren’t healthy but frankly I’ve found quite the opposite.)

It’s been over a week since FIFA "voted" on who’ll hold the Word Cup in 2018 and 2022 and I’m slowly collecting my thoughts. My first reaction was simple (F*CKKKK!!!!!).

Almost immediately though, I (like millions of others) was simply too stunned to really think about it logically (something FIFA is familiar with).

Now that I’ve had a moment to collect myself, the logic is beginning to return to my head. The first thing that stands out is the utter lunacy of it all. Actually, I take that back, that’s the only thing that stands out.

When I first sat down to write this, I quickly realized it was going to spill all over the place to the tune of more than 1000 words. So I’m breaking it up into two parts. One discussing the individual bids and the other discussing my new favorite topic (and the single most ingenious international evil organization since SPECTRE): FIFA.

Let’s review…

The 2018 Bid

Ah the English, who so long ago gave birth to the game but now seem to have about as much control over their offspring as Billy Ray Cyrus does over Miley. FIFA as an organization seems to reserve a special place in their malevolent little hearts for England.

In a turn of reverse-Imperialism, the bid put forth by the spectacularly equipped British received only 2 out of the 22 possible votes. They were deemed the least wanted bid out of any put forward in the 2018 vote.

But why? Could it be the hooliganism? Isn’t that a feature as stereotypically English as tea or Hugh Grant? The answer is probably not, as 21st century English soccer culture is quite different than the hooliganism that was so pervasive for so long.

While there are still incidents of over-zealous fans, the vast majority of the game has been cleaned up. Stadium terraces have been eradicated in favor of full seating (preventing the overcrowding that caused tragedies like Hillsborough). Safety is not an issue.

Neither is stadium infrastructure. Neither is travel or hotel capability. And obviously, the country whose domestic league is now truly a world one would have no problem accommodating the plethora of nationalities that turn up for a World Cup (both players and fans/media alike).

In fact, nothing on the operational side is an issue. England was the only nation bidding on either 2018 or 2022 to unanimously score a perfect 100 on their FIFA inspection for capability. A 100. Not 98 or 99… a 100.

Great soccer culture, great infrastructure, plenty of money. And of 22 votes in FIFA’s Executive Committee…they garnered a whole two votes (and that’s including the only British guy on the Committee).

…wait what?

Where exactly did they go wrong? Well…that’s where it gets interesting because, as far as I can tell, the reasons are about as scarce as George Tenet’s assertion that it was a “slam-dunk” Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

According to an ESPNsoccernet source who spoke to a FIFA exec, the British delegation had “an heir of arrogance” about them, implying that sending Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham gave the British bid a sense of undue expectancy.

Arrogance? Ok, so let me get this straight: the country is ideally equipped to host the tournament, has worked tirelessly to unify itself for the good of the cause and FIFA executives are going to reject them on the basis that they’re arrogant? Isn’t that arrogance personified?

You have all the right stadiums, hotels, travel requirements, security, you invented the freaking game and also have a nation of extremely passionate fans who haven’t seen your country host the tournament since 1966…but you’re arrogant so on that basis alone were not even going to give a couple token votes before we pick who we really want.

FIFA Vice President Jack Warner (who I’ll get to in due time) said after the vote that the English media’s investigation of FIFA’s corrupt activities (many of which FIFA hasn’t denied) were a reason for losing votes.
"Suffice it to say that the Fifa ExCo as a body could not have voted for England having been insulted by their media in the worst possible way at the same time” noted Warner. “To do so would have been the ultimate insult (to FIFA).”

Essentially, they chose to not vote for England because of two media reports from England that successfully pinned corruption charges on members of FIFA’s all-powerful executive committee. Arrogance?

It wasn’t just a defeat for England, it was an evisceration both Michael Jordan and Michael Corleone would’ve been proud of because they got away with murder in broad daylight and nobody can do anything about it.

2022 Bid

And now to the American bid. We did better than our British friends in the voting, but it ultimately came to the same end. The U.S. contingent also had their share of star power. Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman and a video message from President Obama added celebrity weight. An excellent presentation by U.S. Soccer chief Sunil Gulati added substance.

In reality, the World Cup coming to America sells itself. We’re the wealthiest country in the world, able to absorb the deluge of inevitable World Cup guests in the same nonchalant fashion of Joey Chestnut absorbing all those hot dogs on the fourth of July. And our track record speaks for itself.

The 1994 World Cup, the first ever held in the U.S., is still the highest drawing World Cup ever (even after the tournament expanded from 24 to 32 teams in 1998). It helped jump-start the MLS, which has its fair share of detractors and skeptics to be sure, but is nonetheless growing every year in size and attendance.

Qatar is in no way prepared or capable of hosting at this point in time. And there are so many factors yet to be hashed out. The country is smaller in both size and population than Connecticut (and its population is more than a third composed of migrant workers).

It upholds laws that forbid drinking or kissing in public, though women are allowed to drive (this is seen as a milestone.)

Yet they also have laws (or lack thereof) which would allow FIFA to keep all their revenue tax free. And, unlike in the United States or other Western countries, Qatar will have no problem seeing FIFA monopolize drinks, food and other goods with their own sponsors (again, maximizing profits).

Basically, the U.S, England, Australia and the other bids got dunked on because of money. FIFA can make more holding it in countries where the press isn’t as free and the government is more restrictive. They hide behind the single excuse that they’re merely "expanding the tournament into new areas." In reality, they're just using that as a very large excuse to keep the tournament in countries where making money won't be a problem for FIFA.

Yet I suppose being an American makes me bias. And that’s true, because in the end it was never about America (or England for that matter in their bid). It was about FIFA. Part II coming up...