Time to kick back against the kickbacks

We football fans shouldn’t just cynically shrug our shoulders in response to allegations of FIFA corruption.

Viral Shah

Topics Politics

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The biggest surprise from the ‘World Cup votes for sale’ story broken in The Sunday Times was that FIFA has an ethics committee. Amos Adamu, a FIFA executive committee member from Nigeria, was filmed negotiating a £500,000 fee with an undercover reporter in exchange for his vote (one of 24) concerning which bidding nations will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Ironically, it was Amos Adamu who, back in July, told the media: ‘The public sees every football administrator as a corrupt person, and I cannot explain why it is so. We should be transparent to prove them wrong.’

FIFA president Sepp Blatter promised the obligatory investigation, but given FIFA’s record on previous corruption allegations, it would be surprising if any strong action were taken. Sepp Blatter relies for his position on a system of patronage and is smart enough not to scapegoat those who guarantee his presidency. But Adamu, along with Oceania representative Reynald Temarii (who was also fingered in The Sunday Times story), has been suspended as the investigation continues.

Another figure who has attracted controversy is Jack Warner, the FIFA vice-president and chief of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), which holds three of the 24 votes that decide who will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Warner was in the headlines last November after returning a £230 Mulberry handbag from the England 2018 bidding team. He told then FA chairman Lord Triesman: ‘There is nothing that your FA can offer me to get my vote.’ This was before he allegedly asked for a £1,100 pearl necklace for his wife from the 2022 Australian bid team after complaining that his wife had missed out on pearl pendants given to other FIFA officials 14 months earlier. It seems the Australians were happy to oblige, with Football Federation Australia (FFA) declaring that the gift was within FIFA rules.

The only form of gift that is forbidden is straight cash, so other kinds of gifts are commonplace. For example, there were allegations made by The Age (Australia) in July that the Australian Football Federation spent ‘tens of thousands of dollars for the Trinidad and Tobago under-20 soccer team to travel to Cyprus last year in a gesture warmly received by Mr Warner’. Other recent gestures seen as ‘heartening’ by Jack Warner include David Beckham travelling to Trinidad to coach 200 players, while Holland’s 2018 leader Ruud Gullitt also went to provide training for 25 coaches.

While Warner is courted by soccer’s elite, his association doesn’t seem to be so generous towards its own players, as revealed by its refusal to pay the agreed bonuses to the country’s 2006 World Cup squad. As Patrick Barclay noted in The Times (London): ‘After the 2006 World Cup, [the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation] declared revenue of £1.5million and costs of almost the same amount and offered the players less than £500 each. When they refused, Warner accused them of “greed”. It was later revealed that revenue had been nearly £15 million.’ FIFA’s ethics committee refused to get involved, on the basis that it had been set up after the 2006 World Cup and could not deal with matters retrospectively.

There has been some official recognition that there might be a problem. Warner’s son was fined by FIFA after making an estimated $1million from selling tickets to the 2006 World Cup that were either intended for the Trinidad and Tobago team or were sold at enormous markups to tour operators. But such decisive action is a rarity.

Last Sunday, The Sunday Times reported on another sting, in which former secretary-general and one-time Blatterite Michel Zen-Ruffinen (forced out in 2002, after accusing Sepp of mismanagement) identified executive committee members that were open to bribery. He also indicated that the 2018 Spain/Portugal bid has agreed an exchange of votes with Qatar’s 2022 bid, though this has been denied by all the countries concerned.

There is big money to be made in 2018. FIFA made a profit of roughly £2.2 billion from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and there should be more money in 2018. So those countries that are bidding are not doing it out of some pure sense of sporting charity. As England’s 2018 website points out: ‘England is the world’s largest commercial market for football – for TV rights, sponsorship, licensing, and ticket revenue. A FIFA World Cup in England is guaranteed to be a huge commercial success. A conservative analysis by PWC calculates the economic benefit to England of hosting the FIFA World Cup at over £3.2 billion, creating thousands of new jobs and opportunities for the entire country.’ With that kind of money at stake, it seems bidders are only too willing to play the game.

It would be naive to think that this kind of thing doesn’t go on in every field of life where there are large sums of money at stake, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Sport is supposed to exemplify the highest ideals, and hosting a major tournament should be an honour bestowed on the country best able to stage the event. That means we shouldn’t just cynically shrug our shoulders and accept alleged corruption at the top.

Viral Shah is a freelance football writer and a graduate of the Young Journalists’ Academy. He currently blogs on LiberoFootball.

Duleep Allirajah is away.

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Topics Politics


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