By Arley Gill
It will be fair to say, that most persons who seriously follow world football would not have been surprised by the current allegations, charges, arrests, extradition requests, resignations and the general “commess”, that are going on in FIFA. Yes, one may not have expected the arrests in Zurich just ahead of the recent congress and elections among FIFA affiliates, including the Grenada Football Association.
The reelection of Sepp Blatter as FIFA President was not a surprise. However, his subsequent announcement that he was stepping down from the presidency was the biggest surprise in all of this so far.
The truth is FIFA, under Sepp Blatter, became the most powerful sports organization in the world. It was like a nation without borders; and the president of FIFA was arguably more powerful than leaders of small countries.
The popularity and global nature of the sport meant that FIFA does not need a nuclear weapon or a military to be all influential and powerful. Let us be clear: such power, such popularity, could not have been built solely on corruption.
There must have been shrewd leadership and prudent decision making to move football to where it is today.
Now, persons involved saw the opportunity to get rich and they did. They got filthy rich. The millions that countries and organizations were willing to pay to get a FIFA tournament, or a contract, or the largest prize — a World Cup — seemed to have provided fertile ground for men, with insatiable appetites for greed, to feed on. And, oh how they fed!
So, there is no question in my mind that FIFA, over the years, has cultivated a culture of corruption and graft; individuals within the sport amassed great wealth. But, then came the English losing the bid to host the 2018 World Cup to Russia; and United States losing the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Of course, FIFA has a sort of rotation policy among football confederations, where different parts of the world have a chance to host the major showpiece event. However, it is my view, that the World Cup hosting awards to Russia and Qatar, is what caused the uproar in FIFA.
From the time England lost the bid for 2018, allegations of corruption were made. The English press went to work, day and night, to uncover any sign of corruption; and, to their credit, they did. In fact, long before the FBI in the United States laid charges, English journalists went to Port of Spain to interview Jack Warner, the Trinidad MP and former FIFA Vice President. The BBC did feature programmes; as did the Times newspaper and other major media houses in England. The English were clear: they were not taking it “sitting down’’.
The Americans, for their part, still call the global sport “soccer”; and, as such, the press in that country was more concerned as to whether or not an “American football’’ was deflated or not for a game of American football. However, the US has investigative and legal powers like no other. And, they decided that enough was enough with FIFA. As a result, they determined to investigate and as the USA is one of the major financial centers in the world, most transaction for the western hemisphere will have to go through the US jurisdiction. Therefore it is not surprising that most of the persons indicted are from the western hemisphere.
My interest here is not so much the corruption in FIFA; there is enough written and reported on this matter and it will continue for a while. What interests me is the geopolitics in the world of football.
Europe has the biggest and wealthiest football leagues. However, when it comes to FIFA, a country the size of Montserrat has the same vote as England. The poor countries of Africa are powerful as a block and as individual countries, as are the developing countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. In other words, the most powerful economic countries in the world are not necessarily the most powerful countries in FIFA.
I am not sure that that the members of FIFA from poor countries are the only ones to benefit from the corrupt culture of FIFA. Fairness demands that corrupt officials should be rooted out not only from poor countries but from rich countries as well.
It cannot be ignored that the nine current and former FIFA officials indicted by the FBI are from the Caribbean, Latin America and one from the USA. It’s like the region of the Americas wrote the handbook on corruption in FIFA.
I agree that corrupt officials must be brought to justice. But justice does not know race, colour, nationality and wealth of individuals.