Over the past two weeks FIFA has become the central focus of international sport but for all of the wrong reasons.
The global sport community has been fed an almost daily diet of the corrupt practices of the most popular sport on the planet and within the governing body that is perhaps the wealthiest sporting organisation in the world.
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the stories as still being revealed from different parts of the world at a very rapid pace that suggests the corruption is immensely deeper than first anticipated and we can expect significantly more in the coming days, weeks and months.
FIFA has been a solid advocate of the principle of Fair Play in sport. The organisation has had a FIFA Fair Play anthem produced. The anthem is used at the start of all major competitions around the world held under the ambit/auspices of FIFA.
The generic concept of fair play is a fundamental part of the game of football. It represents the positive benefits of playing by the rules, using common sense and respecting fellow players, referees, opponents and fans.
The Fair Play Campaign was conceived largely as an indirect result of the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, when the handball goal by Diego Maradona stimulated the admirable reaction of the England coach, Sir Bobby Robson… To give fair play more visibility, FIFA created a programme that turned the generic notion into a simple design and an easy to understand code of conduct that could be recognised and respected by players and fans alike… FIFA’s Fair Play Campaign is represented by the slogan “My Game is Fair Play” (centralfootball.co.nz)
Indeed, FIFA’s constitution contains a provision under Section 2.e that reads, To promote integrity, ethics and fair play with a view to preventing all methods or practices, such as corruption, doping or match manipulation, which might jeopardise the integrity of matches, competitions, Players, Officials and Members or give rise to abuse of Association Football.
FIFA has been promoting Fair Play at a level that no other sport institution has been able to do. Many therefore were led to believe that the organisation was sincere in its approach to encouraging clean sport in all aspects, from administration through to what is delivered on the field of play.
It now appears that the very concept of Fair Play has been almost irreparably damaged by the revelations about the way the game is administered as much as it is on the field of play.
The deal with the Irish
Over the past several years FIFA responded to what many perceived to be poor officiating on the field of play by being extremely vigilant with its competition officials.
It is therefore a stinging indictment on all involved when we learnt recently of the deal that was made between FIFA officials and the governing body for the sport of football in Ireland, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).
BBC revealed in an article dated 5 June 2015 that… Fifa paid the Football Association of Ireland 5m euros (£3.6m) to stop legal action after France controversially beat Ireland in a World Cup play-off.
Where then is Fair Play in all of this?
How is it possible that FIFA could have engaged in this kind of practice and yet stand aloof as a purveyor of Fair Play to the international community?
Some may very well be anxious to suggest that this is the way of the world and therefore we ought not to be surprised at what is emerging as the FIFA debacle unfurls.
In 1999 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expelled six of its members for their involvement in scandals relating to the Salt Lake City bid that won the rights to the Winter Olympics of 2002.
The IOC found them guilty of corruption relative to the bid. They accepted bribes of one sort or another in exchange for their vote for the city.
The embarrassing situation came only a few years after the organisation had celebrated the 100th anniversary of its birth (1994) and the centenary Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, USA (1996).
The international governing body for volleyball, the FIVB, also had its fair share of corruption.
Long serving president of the FIVB, Ruben Acosta of Mexico, was forced to resign from the IOC in 2004 following a decision of the IOC’s Ethics Commission. He resigned a mere two days before the Commission reported on the matter of the misuse of Olympic funds. At the time he denied any wrongdoing. In a letter to then IOC President, Jacques Rogge, Acosta referred to what he saw as a conflict between the rules of the FIVB and the way in which the IOC defined ethics in sport.
In 2008 Acosta resigned from the FIVB. However it does appear that there remain several scandals in circulation that refer to the activities of Ruben Acosta.
We have had recent scandals and accusations of corruption in international Boxing, Cycling and Athletics.
Global impact of the FIFA Scandal
FIFA has been a global financial enterprise that includes 209 national member federations.
In the period 2011 – 2014 FIFA turned over revenues of over $5bn USD.
It has to be understood that the changes that FIFA made over the past several years allowed their members of all sizes to receive significant incomes hitherto unknown and that includes paying their executive members.
The FIFA Gold Projects have allowed many members to break their reliance on their respective national governments in the acquisition of adequate football infrastructure.
It was therefore not surprising that member federations of FIFA continued to support Blatter and allow FIFA to maintain the status quo, now being unravelled in the court of international opinion as well as by Interpol. The member federations do not want to lose the generous benefits they receive from what they perceive to be a benevolent organisation blessed with an even more benevolent leader.
Members therefore overwhelmingly pledged support to Blatter in the most recent elections. They saw no need for change.
It is interesting just as well that some of the larger member federations of FIFA have redefined the concept of democracy and have begun to decry a system that allows all member federations of the organisation an equal vote at the Congress. They somehow see this as undemocratic and would rather return to a system based on size and also on the basis of contributions to the sport. In essence it means reverting to the era of colonialism and conquest but in the realm of sport.
We can therefore expect the larger, more wealthy and northern members of FIFA to wage a war aimed at returning the organisation to an otherwise bygone and decadent era of inequality.
Despite the startling revelations of doping by Lance Armstrong and the criticisms levelled we have also heard those who wish to see the full capabilities of human endeavour undertaken even if this involves the use of drugs.
Believe it or not there appears to be an increasing number of people who would wish to see just what men and women are capable of achieving with the help of the advances of science. This leads us to wonder whether some time in the future we may have the emergence of sport without borders in respect of allowing the unfettered use of performance-enhancing substances.
Likewise, one wonders whether we will soon enough see the day when leaders of sport open up the floodgates of corruption to allow for competition to be a gateway to unlimited financial rewards.
For a very long time, in the face of mounting evidence against Warner, for example, the accepted line in the Caribbean for the most part was that we ought to be proud that a Caribbean personality could have found his way inside the uppermost and influential echelons of the sport. Others have noted the number of blacks amongst those challenged under the law and make veiled references to possible racial intent amongst those who appeal for Fair Play and justice.
Coca Cola, McDonalds, Adidas and Nike, all sponsors of FIFA at one level or another, have come out with statements that now seem to suggest an interest in change at the level of FIFA.
Visa and Budweiser have commented on the need for change following the announcement by Blatter that he will step down at an extraordinary elective congress of the organisation.
Somehow it seemed strange that the sponsors have steered clear of commenting earlier as if they did not feel that they could in any way influence FIFA and the way it did business, even when there were revelations coming from different sources of possible corruption in the sport and the organisation.
Some suggest that it may well be that the main FIFA sponsors felt that should they withdraw in protest that they would lose benefits they have long enjoyed with their association with the sport, the organisation and especially the FIFA World Cup. Some may also have thought that there are numerous other commercial giants lurking in the wings literally hoping of just such an opportunity to present themselves as replacements and reap the harvest that others have been enjoying for decades.
Another view is that some international businesses are themselves so often mired in corruption that no one would be anxious to pint an accusing finger at any other organisation. The case of the major financial institutions over the past seven to eight years is a case in point.
Only now that everything is out in the open and major advanced industrialised nations are investigating FIFA and its members, several sponsors have begun to speak out.
Globally, some governments have remained very silent on the goings on at FIFA despite the evidence unearthed over the past 10 – 15 years in particular. Even now, only a few are speaking out.
It must be remembered that governments spend millions and possibly billions seeking to win the rights to host the coveted World Cup and the several other FIFA controlled competitions. They are willing allies in a global enterprise to use sport as a vehicle of national development and international recognition and access.
Governments may also be afraid to speak out because they too often make deals to access developmental assistance.
Governments engage in all sorts of practices worldwide in an attempt to strike trade deals of one sort or another. The full details are not always made known to the public for fear that they may create problems for the ruling regime at the polls.
Governments often make deals that essentially mean the selling of their votes to this or that country desirous of acquiring a position of status and influence.
Corruption has long been associated with political leaders and their governments globally and so they may well feel less than compelled to speak out on the FIFA debacle.
The media thrives on what sells. This may well explain why the media have not been as consistently investigative as they ought to be in all aspects of life in society and the world.
Recent revelations have also shown that the media have their own biases as much as they have skeletons in their closets. This may well explain why they drop some stories while vigorously pursuing others; why the drop some investigations against individuals and pick up on others.
The international media have to carry much of the blame for failing to pursue appropriate investigative journalism in respect of FIFA.
We can expect that the international media will now place sporting organisations more rigidly under their microscopes seeking out the smallest shred of evidence of corruption.
International sports federations (IF) will immediately review their governance policies and practices and extend these to their affiliates around the world.
None shall be exempt from closer scrutiny in respect of how sporting organisations do business.
Over the past two weeks FIFA has become the central focus of international sport but for all of the wrong reasons.