For those of us who are pained by the terrible politicisation of Indian sport, it’s lack of professional management and its permanent strangulation by power-brokers of the Kalmadi kind, recent events at FIFA, football’s governing body, are instructive.
FIFA has been engulfed by two kinds of allegations: alleged bribery by Qatar in its successful winning bid for the 2022 World Cup and a kickbacks scandal surrounding its longest serving Vice President, Jack Warner, which involved $40,000 bribes allegedly given to Caribbean members to vote for Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam in the race for FIFA’s presidency, a race which Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter ultimately won unopposed when Hammam withdrew his candidature.
Stuck like a deer in the headlights of the world’s media, FIFA’s response exposed like never before the sheer warlordism and naked power politics that defines its governance of the world’s most popular game.
Consider what happened. When Jack Warner, also a cabinet minister in Trinidad and one of Blatter’s oldest associates, finally quit under media pressure, he insisted in his resignation note that he was innocent and had only facilitated meetings for Hammam to present his presidential bid.
But the sting came in the tail when he added nevertheless: “It’s not unusual for such things to happen, and gifts have been around throughout the history of FIFA. What’s happening now is hypocrisy.”
In other words, the practise of buying votes was part of the normal ebb and play of the ‘beautiful game’.
What did FIFA do in response? It immediately closed the ethics committee actions it had reluctantly started against Mr Warner, adding further that “the presumption of innocence is maintained.” End of matter!
Never mind the dirty linen that kept tumbling out. Like FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valke’s leaked email in which he dismissed the Qatari bin Hammam’s bid for presidency saying maybe “he thought you can buy FIFA as they (Qatar) bought the WC (World Cup)”.
Confronted with yet another media uproar, Valke later confirmed that the email was indeed written by him but that he meant Qatar’s financial marketing muscle, not any purchase of votes.
By any standards, this is by far the greatest crisis of credibility FIFA has ever faced and it unfolded in the backdrop of a bitter election fight between Blatter and his erstwhile ally bin Hammam, which culminated on June 1 with Blatter winning a fourth term as President unopposed.
At a time when the British government, among others, called for suspending the FIFA election process till the truth came out, such was Blatter’s brazenness that he dismissed even the suggestion of a crisis. As he declared at a press conference, “Crisis, what is a crisis? We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties and these will be solved inside our family.”
And how will he do that? He will restore FIFA’s image by announcing a new ‘council of wisdom’ or a ‘solutions committee’ consisting of Henry Kissinger and the Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo! Never mind that Kissinger has not even accepted yet.
One can imagine Suresh Kalmadi, former President of the Indian Olympic Association, shaking his head with a wistful smile as he cools his heels in Tihar Jail on corruption charges.
The essential problem is structural. Much like the BCCI or the Indian Olympic Association, which are organised around a closed system of election by state or regional federations, global soccer is run by a voting and patronage system consisting of national federations.
FIFA has more members than the UN. Each of its 208 member associations has a vote and since the time of Joao Havelange, Blatter’s predecessor, each has benefitted with huge financial handouts for development. “Bribe or benefit, the way to power over the world’s most popular – and profitable – recreation is by promise of financial aid,” as the columnist Rob Hughes observes.
FIFA’s reported post-tax profit of $202 million in 2010 shows how much money it makes but there is little transparency in how it actually spends that money.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reformed after the bribery scandal over Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics when its members were accused of taking kickbacks. Ten members of the IOC were expelled or forced to resign, another ten were sanctioned and stricter rules were brought in for future bids.
FIFA so far has not shown any such inkling. It’s very governance structure encourages warlordism, to use the journalist and historian Mihir Bose’s term, and Blatter answers every question with a defiant reference to what he calls the ‘FIFA family’.
But the pressure may just be beginning to tell from where it matters most: the sponsors. Adidas and Coca Cola recently announced their displeasure and if those who hold the purse strings actually turn the screws, maybe, just maybe, things could change.
Now if only the sponsors could do that with the BCCI, or the IOA and yes, with the Indian football federation.