From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.22 :: Jun. 02, 2011

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FOOTBALL / KICKING AROUND

A meeting place for racketeers

FIFA has long sullied its reputation, with one corruption charge after the other against its top executives. The recent cash for vote scandal is not the first one to hit the organisation, nor will it be the last, writes Brian Glanville.

The lunatics, you might say, are taking over the asylum. Or purporting to. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, seemingly desperate to be imminently re-elected for a fourth term, has suddenly insisted on a three-week investigation by his flaccid so called ethics committee into the dirty work at the World Cup crossroads. This hot on the heels of the revelations made by the former main man at the Football Association, Lord Triesman. Who had nothing to say on the scandalous subject while being unimpressively in charge; save telling his young lady friend an unconvincing tale about Spain and Russia getting together to bribe referees, which she promptly and treacherously made public.

Goodness knows that after that undercover investigation by the Sunday Times, we already knew far too well that several members of the World Cup selection committee had elicited huge bribes. To which the ineffably feeble and evasive response of the FA's World Cup bid committee was to impugne the BBC Panorama television programme for having made further alarming revelations on the chicanery that was going on.

Killing the messenger, indeed. It soon transpired that the GBP19 million allegedly spent by the English World Cup bidding committee was money down a drain which would have been usefully if deceitfully deployed only by making bribery approaches to those biddable World Cup representatives. Russia and Qatar, the ultimate sheer parody of a host country decision, had long since bought and paid for.

There was, in fact, a beautiful recent irony when Mike Lee, the Englishman advising Qatar on what seemed a wholly incongruous bid, criticised the Football Association for running an inadequate campaign. Just a day or so before it was revealed that Qatar had paid millions in bribes to two members of the World Cup selection committee. For all you know, Mr. Lee might well have been as white as snow. He was even in England's bid for the 2012 Olympics, but it is surely legitimate to suggest that in the Qatar affair — a tiny country with no football legion and a roasting hot summer climate — he was either very naïve or very cynical.

Especially ludicrous was the typically flagrant response of the outrageous Jack Warner of Trinidad who, having promised England his vote and, most humiliatingly, been invited into the 10, Downing Street residence of Prime Minister David Cameron and in the Zurich preamble, being courted not only by Cameron but by Prince William, the heir to the throne, duly voted elsewhere. But the shameless Warner has a long record, chronicled in detail in Andrew Jennings' devastating book, ‘Foul!'

Time and again Warner, in his role as President of CONCACAF, whose votes had been vital to Blatter, and head of the Trinidad Federation, has grabbed huge sums of money out of FIFA, by no means always repaid, while for years on end he failed to pay the members of the gallant Trinidad team which surpassed itself in the 2006 World Cup, the money they were due.

That Triesman and company should have initially courted this shameless man was horrible to see. In this regard Triesman revealed that Warner had demanded for his vote GBP2.5 million to build a so called education centre in Trinidad. Predictably and vociferously, Warner denied this only for Dave Richards, the head of the FA Premier League, to confirm the story. Round up the usual suspects, you might say. Not least the former son-in-law of Joao Havelange, with whose FIFA presidency the rot set in, Ricardo Teixeira, an old foe of Pele. He asked Triesman, in Qatar, “Tell me what you've got for me?” To put it politely, Teixeira is no stranger to controversy in his own country; yet he survives.

All was morally lost when Havelange ejected Stanley Rous from the FIFA Presidency in Frankfurt in 1974, with the votes of Africa delegates whom he brought to Germany with funds extracted from the Brazilian Football Confederation. In one way and another, and this surely reflects upon the integrity of FIFA countries at large, Havelange astonishingly and easily survived till 1998. After the French World Cup, though he was not the President, he characteristically stayed for several weeks at FIFA's expense in one of Paris' most luxurious and expensive hotels.

In 1998, it looked a formality for honest if unspectacular Swede Lennart Johansson to succeed Havelange. But suddenly and surprisingly, who knows how, Blatter came up on the rails and pipped him to the post. To gauge some idea of what FIFA has been under his aegis, let us go back a couple of years or so to a New York court, where two FIFA representatives Chuck Blazer, number two at CONCACAF, and Jerome Valcke, from the FIFA ranks at Zurich, endeavoured to take away World Cup rights from Mastercard and give them instead to Visa. The woman judge threw out their case, accusing both of them of lying. Back to Zurich went Valcke, to be briefly suspended. Then the smoke cleared, to find him Chief Executive of FIFA.

Qatar's main man, Mohammed Bin Hammam, the rival to Blatter in the coming election, now says he is convinced of FIFA's honesty but there are problems to be tackled. Again, shameless is as shameless does, and one might well ask of the coming Presidential Election, would you be shot or hanged? Meanwhile, Blatter demands “a clean FIFA.”



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