Football literally heats up
St Vincent and the Grenadines has earned the right to play in the second round of the preliminaries for the FIFA World Cup of 2018. We are due to start off with playing the USA, a formidable but not insurmountable challenge.
In the previous edition of this Column we addressed some of the necessary actions the local federation must undertake if we are to mount a serious challenge against the might of the US team.
Unfortunately for us the world of football is today mired in controversy of all sorts, not the least of which is the series of scandals at the very highest levels of the international federation governing the sport, FIFA.
Here at home there are challenges facing the local governing body, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation.
Of concern to all of us who love the sport and wish to see Vincy Heat do well in the current and future competitions is to what extent the foregoing reality impacts the way we do things in the sport.
FIFA slides deeper
It was not so very long ago that Jerome Valcke, the secretary general of FIFA, boldly faced the media in defence of the powerful sporting organisation.
On Thursday 17 September, the private jet carrying Valcke to Russia to be part of that country’s observance of 1000 days to the 2018 World Cup Finals made an about face and returned to its point of origin. Once back at FIFA, Valcke was greeted with the news that the organisation had suspended him and sent him on immediate leave and that its Ethics Committee will engage in a thorough investigation into a series of allegations against him.
The allegations seem to relate to the sale of tickets for the FIFA World Cup held in Brazil last year.
Valcke’s suspension comes against the backdrop of on-going investigations being conducted by both the USA and Swiss authorities into FIFA.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has lauded the cooperation her investigation is receiving from the Swiss authorities thus far and has assured the world that the investigation is far from over.
For their part the Swiss have indicated that their investigation is also examining the bids for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups won by Russia and Qatar respectively as well as the FIFA contract for media rights to the previous World Cups of 2010 and 2014 respectively.
Thus far more than 11 terabytes of data have been seized and so too some properties in the Swiss Alps.
With the Swiss Attorney General, Michael Lauber, declaring that the investigation has not even reached the half time stage there is every reason to believe that we are likely to have much more information touching countless more individuals being brought to the fore in the not too distant future.
The saga of Austin ‘Jack’ Warner of Trinidad and Tobago continues as the newly elected political administration determine sits own approach to the US’ pursuit of his extradition to answer charges in that country.
Warner’s demise at FIFA, CONCACAF and the CFU has been followed by his political demise at the country’s most recent national elections.
Thus far Sepp Blatter has sought to fight the good fight. He lays claim to leading the reform process from within before officially demitting office early in 2016.
There may well be some analysts concerned about the extent to which so much corruption could have been taking place at such high levels in FIFA and the long-standing president be totally unaware of any of it.
Some may well want to think that a case may be developing aimed at encircling Blatter in the final analysis.
Just how much more ill be revealed in anybody’s guess. What is clear is that there are mountains of evidence already in the hands of the legal authorities across continents and these will inevitably lead to more startling revelations.
The local football governing body is now itself embroiled in a number of issues that threaten to detract from the focus that should really be placed on the preparations for the next round of World Cup action.
The suspension of the General Secretary, Huggins, with immediate effect had led to what will be an inevitable legal battle. There is also the matter of some of the other executive members who have had issues.
There is little doubt that Huggins is likely to aggressively defend himself and the same is expected of the President, Venold Coombs.
Where will this matter end?
What is the likely impact on the team’s preparation?
How will the image of the federation be impacted?
As is the case with FIFA, would we see some startling revelations in the media enough to have sponsors bothered?
The problem here is that the current action taken against the General Secretary comes at a time when the federation should be focused on ensuring that all that is required for the success of the team in the preliminaries is in place.
FIFA is now clearly under a global microscope.
There is also little doubt that the global commercial sector is aware of the tremendous range of products that football brings to the table and their worth in terms of promoting their respective brands. This is the reason that we are hearing from commercial interests at the global level in respect of appeals for FIFA to clean up its act. However we are also aware that not many of them seem anxious to withdraw from their support of the sport. The FIFA brand is currently deemed too valuable.
In the international community Apple is the world’s most popular brand followed by that of the International Olympic Committee. FIFA is highly ranked as well.
Global sponsors of sport reap a harvest by association with immensely popular brands and sport brands are increasingly important in this regard. However there remains a conundrum of sorts such as that to which we referred earlier regarding global sponsors making statements about FIFA but making sure that they do not leave the brand and open the way for their competitors to step in and reap a harvest that they once enjoyed.
On the one hand some commercial enterprises seem anxious to suggest to the world, their marketplace, that they have developed some sort of social conscience. Unfortunately though, the profit motive often comes across as being significantly more important to their existence than their social consciences.
Blatter is now something of a hermit. He really has problems travelling and so he can now claim that he will not be travelling until after the elections in February next year.
Whatever he does he will remain, for the rest of his days, associated with the image of FIFA as per the current unfolding reality. In many respects he would be unable to extricate himself from it.
How many of the current aspects of the sport he now proffers to change that he knew to be in existence, watched the activities of those around him and did nothing before now?
Given the way in which some of the personages, who have been arrested and charged and for some of whom extradition is being sought by the US authorities, had move dup the ranks of FIFA over the years, first when Blatter was General Secretary to Joao Havelange and later when he assumed the FIFA presidency, how could he not have known them and their activities in the sport he led?
There are those who feel very strongly that once a sporting organisation becomes flooded with financial resources there must inevitably be a paradigm shift towards employing professionals. Unfortunately this often creates a major challenge for those who are volunteers since they are often the leaders of these organisations.
There is the challenge of seeing professionals being paid for their work and they as volunteers go virtually unrewarded.
Many a sporting organisation has faltered at this juncture – the challenge of having volunteer leaders work alongside professionals or vice versa.
The decision by FIFA some years ago has opened a new pathway. The organisation allowed for the payment of volunteers as well as the employment of professionals.
This has not however put to rest the conflict between the two groupings.
The old adage that power corrupts is as applicable to sport as it is in other aspects of life.
The local football fraternity must not show itself to be above the vagaries that are currently negatively impacting FIFA. Can our football fraternity do this? Can it address the several issues without the acrimony that so often emerges and as already evidenced by some of the comments made to the media?
Will our leaders show themselves capable of at once addressing the seemingly increasing controversy and guarantee the best possible preparation of Vincy Heat?
Time, the great revealer of things, will obviously tell.