Wednesday, June 03, 2015

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need

There are streamers hanging from lampstands, lipstick-stained wine glasses in the sink, beer cans in the laundry hamper and cigarette butts....well, you don't want to know where there are cigarette butts.

It's the morning after the night before, a night when, like all those cuddly ewoks in Return of the Jedi, we danced merrily around bonfires as the evil empire imploded in spectacular fashion with the news that Sepp Blatter had, just days after being re-elected as FIFA president, announced his resignation.

It might be trivial to liken FIFA to the Star Wars universe, but parallels between Blatter's grip on power and the malignant Palpatine (the politician who is really Darth Sidious, and who engineers the creation of the evil galactic Empire...) are just too close to ignore.

Blatter's reign has been anything but trivial, and the new mire FIFA has found itself in over the last seven days (on top of the foul stench that has hung over it for years) has exposed just how ethically degenerate football's world governing body has allowed itself to become, and despite protestations, undeniably on Blatter's 17-year watch.

Of course, charges and indictments are one thing, convictions are another. But the wealth of evidence, painstakingly and rigourously gathered by investigative journalists like Andrew Jennings, the BBC's Panorama, and The Sunday TimesInsight team, and, now, the FBI as well, has left absolutely no one in any doubt as to the depth and breadth of the prevailing ethics culture within FIFA.

"Follow the money", was the suggestion Deep Throat made to Woodward and Bernstein in All The President's Men, and that is precisely how FIFA stands on a precipice, overlooking rivers of the stuff disappearing into 'development projects'. These, then, turn out to be the offshore accounts of the Blatter accolytes who have been able to get away with it through a crooked combination of ignorance, tolerance and governance which at best could be described as lax.

And now, the body that oversees the world's most popular sport, and which managed the process to award multi-billion dollar-generating World Cups in that paragon of virtue, Russia, and that footballing giant, Qatar, is lacking leadership and has lost what little respect it was still hanging on to. Football executives - multiple - should not be appearing on Interpol wanted posters. But they are, and Sepp Blatter must accept his responsibility for allowing it to come to this.

The very apex of football is now under the scrutiny of criminal investigators, with US reports suggesting that Blatter himself may be subject to investigations by the FBI and federal prosecutors. This is, clearly, a step in the right direction to satisfy what appears to be the near-unanimous view of most commentators on the beautiful game, that Blatter's exit hasn't come soon enough.

That said, he hasn't gone yet. Inevitably, in a bureaucracy as gargantuan as FIFA, it will be some months before he actually packs up his desk in the $250 million palace in Zurich that is FIFA HQ. Yesterday Blatter said he would remain as president until a new vote can be held between December and next March. That might depend upon the G-men, but it's also not impossible that Blatter could stand again. Surely, though, not even the most dead-eyed, deluded despot would consider themselves eligible now?

Before FIFA can organise a new vote, however, we will have to endure a parade of contenders - including more Blatters - staking their claim on the presidency. These will no doubt include, UEFA president Michel Platini. A gifted footballer in his day, and as politically ambitious as he was a determined attacking midfielder, it was Platini, of course, who tried to persuade his "friend" Blatter to stand down last week, before the vote, and described his subsequent resignation as "a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision". Clearly.

Whomever comes in needs to have the support and trust of the entire world of football, and not just its gravy train-riding senators who've benefited from the five-star travel and hospitality, not to mention whatever else besides. FIFA's next president simply be a politically expedient force of unification who will merely paper over the fissures that the corruption scandal and Blatter himself have created.

No, he or she needs to be someone willing and capable of rebuilding and even relaunching FIFA as an organisation built on, first and foremost, the highest standard of ethical behaviour, transparency and accountability. And that must, inevitably, mean re-examining the World Cups in Russia and, especially, Qatar.

Neither can go ahead when there is so much suspicion and actual evidence of shady behaviour surrounding them. And in Qatar - where 4,000 migrant workers, enduring slave-like conditions in one of the most intolerant countries on Earth, may die building stadia before a ball has even been kicked - there is absolutely no justification for a newly-ethical FIFA to proceed. Its slogan "For the good of the game, For the good of the world" would be rendered a joke. More than it is at present.

FIFA has 209 member organisations - fifteen more than member states of the United Nations. Nothing, upon nothing, brings the world together like a World Cup (a fact worth pointing out to the smartarse American 'comic' Bill Maher who acidly tweeted that we Europeans "have to admit that as bad as the FIFA scandal is, it's still more interesting than the sport". Twat).

There's a reason for football's enormous global engagement, and its ability to bridge cultures and social divisions. And it needs to be understood by those who govern the sport...and those who have sought to sully its name for their own personal gain.

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