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!

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