May 28, 2011
By JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency
Saturday night followers of the world’s most popular game were riveted by something that promised to be a thrilling expression of its beauty and speed when Barcelona and Manchester United fought for the European Champions League at historic Wembley stadium.
However, there was also a bleak certainty. It was that whatever was achieved by such luminous talents as Lionel Messi of Barca and Wayne Rooney of United the stench of official effluents was not likely to be dispelled.
On the field soccer hoped for a statement of superior execution and enduring brilliance. Off it, no-one could deny that it had become a parody of decent governance.
The nightmare script has been unfolding for some time now, of course, but now football as represented by the ruling FIFA organization is in a state that most realistic observers agree is beyond repair. Some have suggested the need for a scalpel to cut away the badness. Others prefer a solution that might be provided by a hosepipe.
In any event, even British prime minister David Cameron is moved to take his eye for a moment off an imperiled economy and the problem of Libya to consider the meltdown in soccer administration.
He is reported to have described the affairs of FIFA as “murky.” No kidding. Today the crisis was due to enter the realm of dark farce when reigning president Sepp Blatter and Mohamed bin Hamman, who Saturday night suddenly withdrew his election challenge to the embattled leader, were due to be paraded before something that is described, with a remarkable lack of irony, as FIFA’s Ethics Committee.
Both are accused of dishonest manipulation of vote gathering.
The English FA have already made the grand gesture of abstaining from the vote — this was inevitable after their former chairman Lord Triesman broke cover recently to report bribery attempts during England’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup but many critics believe the gesture is far too little, too late.
The pressure is now rising for a breakaway from FIFA, perhaps led by England and other major football nations like Germany and Spain. However the peril of this is obvious enough — detachment for some time from the huge revenue stream provided by the World Cup tournament.
One major nation not likely to join the rebellion is Russia, who won the 2018 vote despite far inferior marks in the assessment of the FIFA technical team. Indeed, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was quick to lead to the defence of the embattled president, saying, “To accuse Blatter of corruption, that is utter rubbish. He has certainly done a lot for developing global football, that is a self evident fact.”
This is from the Russian perspective, of course.
Britain’s sports minister Hugh Robertson argued, rather more persuasively, that the affairs of FIFA were quite simply descending into farce. He said, “It is impossible to have a sensible election when both of the candidates have been accused of corruption. The sensible thing would be to suspend the election until these allegations have been properly investigated.
“Anybody with any common sense that looks at this will come to the same conclusion that we have come to. I would be amazed if other countries didn’t echo this.”
Maybe the honourable gentleman was speaking before Bin Hamman's withdrawal but this didn't reduce his need to hang onto his credulity as though it is a umbrella caught in a gale.
While the now aborted election was providing fresh evidence of FIFA venality, it appeared almost superfluous in its squalor. The most depressing reality of all is that as the international football schedule now stands the 2022 World Cup will be played in Qatar, a micro dot of a nation set in a sandy enclave and with the single qualification of vast reserves of oil and gas. Bin Hamman authored the Qatar coup — against the infinitely superior bids of Australia and the United States — over which charges of bribery continue to accumulate.
Perhaps most depressing of all, the great player Michel Platini, now president of the European ruling body UEFA and a long-term favourite to succeed Blatter, spent much of breakfast time on Friday arguing that Qatar represents a vital expansion of soccer into previously neglected regions.
Perhaps the idea of playing in the searing heat of the summer was a little fanciful, allowed Platini, but he thought it entirely feasible that the tournament be played in November, even though it would create massive disruption to the major leagues of soccer. As has been remarked before, Qatar is not so much FIFA’s smoking gun as its funeral pyre.
So Saturday night it was not so easy contemplating a classic soccer game amid all the flames. Nor did it help that there was such a pressing need to hold your nose.
(James Lawton writes for The Independent newspaper in England)