Everyday there are twists and turns at football’s world governing body Fifa which makes it as hard to keep track of what’s really going on as it is to tackle Lionel Messi in full flight. What can be said for sure is that Fifa is mired in accusations of corruption and vote buying, and the world’s ‘beautiful game’ is beset by tales of bribery and match fixing.
Fifa’s image is getting worse by the day as it appears more focused on corruption and politics than growing the most popular sport, threatening its own existence.
Mohamed Bin Hammam, the 62 year old president of the Asian Football Confederation, pulled out of the Fifa presidency race against Sepp Blatter on Saturday, hours before facing Fifa’s ethics committee (‘Fifa’ and ‘ethics committee’ – surely a contradiction in terms?) over bribery allegations, saying he was withdrawing for the sake of Fifa’s reputation. “I made the decision to run for the Fifa presidency because I was and remain committed to change within Fifa,” he wrote. “Recent events have left me hurt and disappointed”, he continued, “I cannot allow the game that I loved to be dragged more and more in the mud because of competition between two individuals.”
Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, Fifa’s Vice-President, were then suspended on Sunday from all footballing activities pending a full investigation into their alleged involvement in a bribery scandal. Meanwhile, aging but still fleet-footed Fifa President Sepp Blatter was cleared of any involvement in the substance of the allegations and will not come under further investigation (what can you expect when an organization like Fifa is investigating itself for possible corruption?)
Tomorrow, June 1st, the 75 year-old Sepp Blatter, who has held the Fifa presidency since 1998, will be returned unopposed for another five year term in office.
Surely Blatter really has a case to answer in this scandal, if not for himself at least on behalf of Fifa? But in a press conference held yesterday Blatter all but said the infamous words, “Crisis, what crisis?”
According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Blatter was accused of providing approval for allegedly corrupt payments to be made in the course of presidential campaigning. Warner and Bin Hammam have been accused of offering US$40,000 (J$3-4 million) to national associations of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) at a meeting on May 10 and 11, in return for their votes in the FIFA presidential election. Warner said he approached Blatter to ask for permission for Bin Hammam to pay the expenses of officials attending a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union, a regional body serving the Concacaf confederation of which he is president.
Blatter said in a statement, “FIFA’s image has suffered a great deal as a result, much to the disappointment of FIFA itself and all football fans.” But has Fifa’s image suffered asks The Forum? Or is Fifa’s image so bad already that it could not get much lower?
Another threat of the global game and the integrity of international football has been the evidence of match-fixing linked to gambling. The main perpetrators based themselves in London, England, one even working out of an apartment within sight of Wembley Stadium. It seems fixers have been planning and staging friendly internationals with the express aim of manipulating the results and winning massive bets as a result.
Fifa needs to get its act together otherwise the organisation could collapse as individual countries’ football associations pull out and become independent. Perhaps the threat of Fifa’s sponsors, Coca Cola and Addidas withdrawing funding might at last concentrate even Blatter’s mind (but don’t count on it).
Meanwhile, Gabon’s President Ali Bongo is seeking a postponement of the country’s elections to allow the administration to focus on staging January’s Africa Cup of Nations. In other words, he would like to stay in power for a bit longer because the seat is too sweet to let go. It’s a trend that is common in the African continent with leaders clinging on to power and looking for excuses to do so; the Africa Cup of Nations is just one of them.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Fifa or Gabon, Bongo or Blatter, it’s time for change, transparency and democracy to prevail, says The Forum.