The good news from Switzerland is that FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, faces a corruption scandal so deep that — by the time it’s been worked out who paid what to whom — carrying on as an inscrutable pseudo-papal state in Zurich will no longer be an option.
That moment is being approached with the organization led by Sepp Blatter, the erratic dictator who once said female soccer players should wear tighter shorts to enhance box office appeal. In its luxury lakeside fortress, FIFA has grown adept at fighting off accusations about votes being sold in World Cup bidding races and members of its executive committee using office for personal gain.
Before the latest round of largesse-dispensing sent the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar — a tiny Gulf state with broiling summer temperatures — FIFA had been accused of widespread corruption by the BBC’s Panorama and a Sunday Times investigative team, who accused committee members of selling votes.
In the 2018 race, England’s bid team described as “unpatriotic” those media outlets that indulged in truth-searching; while British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham prostrated themselves at the court of Blatter in the hope that soccer’s greatest carnival would return to England for the first time since 1966.
This dam of arrogance and denial gave way when former FA chairman Lord Triesman used British parliamentary privilege to allege that senior FIFA officials had asked for inducements to vote for England. South America’s Nicolas Leoz is alleged to have sought a knighthood.
This week’s latest revelations have driven FIFA to the edge.
Mohamed bin Hammam, who is challenging Blatter for the presidency, has been accused days before the election of offering thousands of US dollars in cash for “development projects” to members of the Caribbean Football Union in order to bolster his campaign.
His accuser is the US’ representative at FIFA, Chuck Blazer.
Bin Hammam claims the allegations are a “tactic” to discredit him.
Certainly the timing suggests a rupture in the ranks. Nine of the 24 executive committee members are now under suspicion, including Jack Warner, the FIFA vice-president who was courted so sycophantically by England’s bid team.
In world soccer, power has shifted to UEFA, the Champions League and the big European clubs. Today at Wembley, Manchester United face Barcelona in a Champions League final that will surpass the average World Cup final for talent and entertainment. Michel Platini, UEFA’s president, has long-term designs on the presidency of FIFA, which tries to defend its influence by opening new frontiers, such as Russia and Qatar.
The strong suspicion is that the World Cup has embarked on a road trip well beyond the familiar regions because “rotation” allows executive committee members to line their pockets by satisfying eager suitors.
Qatar is accused of paying bribes of US$1.5 million to FIFA members to secure the 2022 tournament — charges it denies. As the wealth of the game expands exponentially, the convulsions seizing FIFA can be seen as a result of a desperate lurch to take a cut and ward off creeping irrelevance.
However, like England’s FA, though for different reasons, FIFA has ceased to function as a credible governing body. Resisting goal line technology and other simple innovations is the least of its crimes.