Sunday, June 05, 2011

Blatter Must Go

This blog is at heart about my love affair with soccer, an affair that is unwavering after five or six years. From very early on I became aware of the corruption that has been in our game and that is in our game at a high level. I was more properly informed about it after reading Andrew Jennings' book, Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals. I wrote a review of the book in late 2006.

Now I have a political background of sorts and things like democracy and accountability are important to me as I am convinced that they are important to civilisation on Earth. So the corruption has always bothered me. At the same time I could see the reality that football people, whilst made up of people who may or may not be politically inclined, are often being football people precisely to escape from realities like politics.

The narrative that got thrown around about the corruption, which was and is pretty much universally acknowledged, was that this was part of the meaning of "football is life." The half-joke that I've heard on many occasions is that society is corrupt, and soccer merely reflects as it reflects everything else.

Well it's not true. There is corruption in society but in decent societies people do at least get busted down when it becomes patently obvious to every single observer.

If you are lost and don't know about current goings on in FIFA, David Hills at the Observer gives a good summary.

In India, apparently (ok, Twitter told me) the lead up to the FIFA congress where Sepp Blatter was (cough) re-elected was compared with the recent Arab uprisings. If so we only got up to the point where the leader, under siege from people screaming "Go!", takes the podium and announces that he is going to reform the system, like he's announced a squillion times before.

We have much less connect, us soccer fans, with our government than the Egyptian people had with Muburak. They could refuse to move and say, "No, we mean it. Go!" We can't.

Before I go on, there are reasons beyond mere morality that corruption - meaning graft and nepotism mostly- is bad. It leads to inefficient decision making. It has been well demonstrated that fighting corruption improves governance and economic growth, and doing so remains a major concern in many parts of the world.

I don't want to sound naive here. Corruption happens wherever there is power and money and we should never forget it - it's a basic insight behind all civic vigilance. But in developed economies people get busted, there are laws in place, accountability standards and penalties that people realistically fear. And in the end, overall, there is lower levels of corruption, which means better decisions are made.

So apart from common decency, the reason corruption in soccer is bad is that it will lead to less development and improvement of football. It's easy to miss because FIFA is very rich, but it's no less true. And we're talking about the world. There's a lot to do.

Damn it I'm rambling, but I just referred to something about Sepp Blatter that I have always liked, and even believed in: his rhetoric about football being used as a force for good in the world. He has hidden his contempt and rottenness behind this rhetoric for a long time. For me the thought of cleaning up FIFA and making it a modern, fully accountable institution of professionals rather than a "family" (Blatter's constant term), induces hope in the truth of the rhetoric. It seems to me that the rhetoric (and maybe Blatter is absolutely sincere in it as such) could not work so well as a screen to being a brazen crook if it did not have some truth in it, or at least be credible enough to be seen to have some truth in it by a very many of people.

Anyway here we are. The President is re-elected. The world media, many politicians and every football fan in the world knows, and is saying openly, that the man has no clothes on. But, as the greatest American poet wrote, "Now's not the time for your tears."

When almost every delegate voted against the English FA's motion that the farcical election be postponed, including Australia's Ben Buckley, and then all mindlessly voted for Blatter, after listening to a series of old tin-pot crooks denounce England's (uncontroversially principled given that there was evidence pending against half the delegates) stance as based on lies and self-interest, and then applauding Blatter's speech, that is when we should weep. For it demonstrates that the rot in FIFA after all these years permeates (almost) every federation. Yes, we must face the bleeding obvious fact that Ben Buckley and Frank Lowy, who each spend a good portion of every public statement congratulating the wonderful work of the other even while the A-League veers toward hell, are of the same culture, at least complicit and at worst up to their ears in it.

There are good reasons why FIFA has always insisted upon a separation of a nation's government and its football federation, and there are cynical reasons as well.

And let's go back to that bid Australia made for the 2022 World Cup. I can only speak for myself but I can also be honest, and provocatively I'm going to use the pluralised first person.

We were excited all right. We were into it! And even though we're a long way away from the World, are in a difficult time zone, and are a fair to middling soccer country, we thought we had a chance. Why did we think we had a chance? Because we had Frank Lowy, multi-billionaire, up front for us. Did we have confidence in Frank because of the vast experience and people skills that he undoubtedly has? No. If the position was about technical ability to do the task, or charisma, or both, there would be many better. Was it because he was rich? Partly, but we know all the countries have money, and we also knew he wouldn't be using his money. I'll tell you why we believed in Frank Lowy, and it's the same reason he can't breathe a word about any of it now.

We believed in Frank Lowy because we had no doubt whatsoever that the process was a corrupt one of bribes and favour swapping and that Lowy could play that game. We thought we had a chance at getting a World Cup because we thought we had a player who could be as corrupt as the best of them.

And we were wrong. We were wrong morally, mostly, but it was very poor judgement as well. We should not have bid for it knowing that it was a corrupt game. We should have saved our 46 million dollars.

That's my mea culpa as a fan of the game. I was an enthusiastic Like-er of the Support Australia's World Cup bid's Facebook page, and I shouldn't have been there. I was wrong, because I did know that FIFA in general, and specifically the World Cup decision, was utterly corrupt, and that graft and favour was the only way we could win.

Mind you, even in retrospect it remains unbelievable that Qatar would get it.*

Anyway, what in hell is a concerned fan to do? We have no vote in any practical way, obviously.

The voice demanding change is very loud. High profile media are well and truly on to it (this Economist article is a good example). There is a lot of noise on the networks. '@changeFIFA' is good, on Twitter ('Change FIFA on Facebook - this will link you with many good sources). There are politicians speaking out in England and Europe, Maradona has called FIFA corrupt dinosaurs, the Swiss Parliament is trying to figure out how to impose some law upon their FIFA inhabitants. It's actually a kind of marvel that Blatter and FIFA can stay among the thickets of the law while the whole planet clamours 'Foul!'

For the fans there is not much we can do, and that is enormously frustrating. There are some small things we can do though, which will be powerful if numbers come forth, and might indeed be decisive. Much easier than camping out on the streets of Cairo.

Several of FIFA's sponsors have already made disapproving noises about FIFA and there is a move ('@FIFA_Boycott' on Twitter, 'Demand Change: Boycott FIFA's Sponsors' on Facebook) to boycott FIFA's major sponsors. My own take (tweet, bumper sticker, whatever) on this idea is to rather than the cry "Boycott McDonalds, Adidas and Coke"...

Don't even mention the four letter 'C' word. Drink Pepsi until Blatter is out.
The burgers are better at Hungry Jacks until Blatter is out.
Take control with Nike until Blatter is out.

I just think that would hurt more.

But furthermore, whilst we cannot boycott games (sorry, the personal cost is too great), we can boycott merchandise. Going to an official game, in full knowledge that our game's government is utterly illegitimate, is in part a sombre thing to do after all. So from now on I am wearing only black to games until Blatter is out. It is a small statement, but I'm making it.

* Not that that's the point, and although I think Australia would do a great job, by a fair judgement of the selection criteria, the USA should have gotten the 2022 World Cup. My money is on them getting it still, though I can't foresee why. It's just so far away, there are so many random factors and difficulties, and the current actors will be dead or nearly so. It will be in the USA. Only time will tell if I am right or wrong there.

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