Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The only way is ethics

I should be giddy. I should be like a nine-year-old on Christmas Eve. In fact, I should be like a nine-year-old for whom all his Christmases have come at once. But, instead, I'm jaded and cranky.

Tomorrow commences the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet, staged in the country that has made football a way of life, an artform, and a thing of great beauty all rolled into one. Brazil hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup should be considered a blessing.

Of course we have had to put up with the crushing predictability of the media invoking every Brazilian cliché imaginable: every second headline you will read between now and mid-July will contain the word "samba" or "fiesta" or both; caipirinha will be shoe-horned into every possible feature article; and it will be impossible to turn on the news without seeing some sweaty-looking bloke with a microphone glancing up a beach and, yes, making a painful reference to "tall, and tanned, and young and lovely".

Most of all, it will be mandatory to make references to a "celebration of football". But what, exactly, are we celebrating?

Yes, it's been looking a little ragged in the run-up. Public transport workers have been on strike prompting the threat of football fans having to travel to matches via hired donkey (good job Tony Adams has retired, eh?). There has also been a question mark over whether the newly-built stadia will be up to the task, or even finished (although any Brazilian will tell you that of course they will be finished by tomorrow. It's only Wednesday, after all...).

We will be worrying ourselves that teams - like England - are being billeted in sub-standard hotels close enough to the favelas that these impossibly well rewarded young men might inadvertently see something humbling. We should worry not. Before the 2012 Olympics in London opened we went through similar irrational concerns, mounting missile batteries on East End tower blocks in case of terrorist attacks, and that sort of thing. In the end, the most embarrassing damage to the games' reputation was the Mayor of London getting caught mid-air on a zip wire.

In principle, then, we are about embark upon a glorious four weeks of indulgence, heading for our summer holidays in a wretched state - bloated from all that late night beer and snack food, and in a permanent state of jet lag (prompting summons from the boss for "a chat" about our performance...) because we've insisted on staying up until two in the morning to watch each and every group stage game, including, bizarrely, Ivory Coast versus Japan (3am CET kickoff, if you're interested).

This will be a magical few weeks for sure. As Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff wrote last Sunday in The Observer, this is a "time for us [in Brazil] to celebrate...the values of fair play and peaceful coexistence among all peoples. It is an opportunity to reinvigorate the humanistic values of Pierre de Coubertin, values of peace, harmony and tolerance."

Woah there! What was that? "...the values of fair play"? Here, then, is where you find the source of my unease. Here's where my jadedness can be explained. Because as we're all getting tarted up for football's party of parties, there is a smell wafting our way which makes any reek coming from Brazil's slums seem positively perfumed.

Not since the Cold War tit-for-tat nonsense that besmirched the 1980 and 1984 Olympics have we entered a major international sporting occasion with so much sewage blocking our view.

The seemingly bottomless pit of revelations by The Sunday Times, providing increasingly irrefutable evidence of financial bungs to secure votes for FIFA's awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, is making a mockery of anything related to fair play.

Right now there is a hardly an angle by which you can look at FIFA and say, with hand on heart, that here is a virtuous organisation. Its moral bankruptcy is typified by its pious president, Sepp Blatter, who despite the very septic air of suspicion hanging over the ethics of the organisation he runs, he is still merrily trotting out plans to stand for a fifth term of office. Interestingly, he stands level with Robert Mugabe in four wins out of four.

Ironic, really, as President Rousseff also wrote in The Observer: "We are also now a vibrant democracy, despite living under a dictatorship a few decades ago. "We enjoy complete freedom and coexist harmoniously with popular demonstrations and demands, which help us improve and perfect our democratic institutions."

The comparison between Blatter and Mugabe extends even so far as the 78-year-old FIFA president claiming victimhood, saying that the media effort to expose wrongdoing was racially motivated. This has, thankfully, prompted Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English FA chairman (which lost out to Qatar in the 2022 bid) to write to Blatter telling him get his house in order, and cease taking a defensive line on the Qatar allegations.

"The allegations being made are nothing to do with racism; they are allegations about corruption," Dyke told Blatter. "These allegations need to be properly investigated and properly answered," adding "many of us are deeply troubled by your reaction to these allegations. It's time for FIFA to stop attacking the messenger, and consider and understand the message."

Dutch FA president Michael van Praag has gone a stage further, bluntly - as only the Dutch can - telling Blatter not to stand for a fifth term in next year's FIFA presidential election. "Few people still take FIFA seriously and, however you look at it, Blatter is mainly responsible," said van Praag. "People link FIFA to corruption and bribery and all kinds of old boy's networks. You are not making things easy for yourself and I do not think you are the man for the job any longer." Add to that, $180 million worth of corporate sponsors like Sony rattling their cheque books at FIFA, and this is a low in terms of reputation, even for a body that has been mired in suspicion before.

In spite of the wealth of "thousands" of documents that the Sunday Times has laid its hands on, supporting allegations that former FIFA vice-president Mohamed bin Hammam arranged meetings between key FIFA voters and representatives of Qatar before the country was awarded the 2022 tournament (on top of claims that bin Hammam made use of a $5 million slush fund to secure votes), FIFA, for its part, says it is doing things by the book.

"Never ignoring media reports on ethics allegations in football," Blatter tweeted on Saturday, just as FIFA's Executive Committee sat down for a pre-tournament meeting. "But let the Ethics Committee work!", he demanded in the same tweet.

In its press release summarising Saturday's meeting, FIFA said: "Regarding media allegations of unethical behaviour related to the vote for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ host country, the executive reaffirmed its position of letting the Ethics Committee complete its work before making any comment."

That completion date for Michael Garcia, FIFA's chief ethics investigator was Monday, but don't expect to see anything until long after the World Cup Final on July 13. "After months of interviewing witnesses and gathering materials," said a statement, "we intend to complete that phase of our investigation by June 9, 2014, and to submit a report to the Adjudicatory Chamber approximately six weeks thereafter. The report will consider all evidence potentially related to the bidding process, including evidence collected from prior investigations." Blather from Blatter, but fair enough.

So we head into the 2014 championship - one which should be bedecked throughout with celebratory garlands as it unfolds in, arguably, the true home of football - with an unpleasant odour lingering over it. And that has nothing to do with poor plumbing in the new stadia.

1 comment:

  1. Bring the World Cup to England in '22 ... or back to the USA. I'd prefer England, but at least choose a country with existing facilities and a location where people won't die of heat exhaustion before halftime. Imagine how long the matches will become with water breaks every 5 minutes. Perhaps Nike or UA will have invited the air conditioned shirt by then.