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Fifa trouble

Before you accuse Fifa, take a look at yourselves




With frenzied excitement the English press took to reporting the ongoings at Fifa headquarters this week, as the English FA hoped to persuade member nations to vote in favour of postponing the elections which were to see incumbent Sepp Blatter remain president for yet another term.

Claiming this 'anti-corruption' stance as their own, representatives of the English fan's league stated pride in "our FA" and "our press" for outing the dubious practices of the world's football governing body.

Yet the attempt fell flat on its face, as only 17 votes backed England's quest. In a bizarre twist to last week's developments, Mohammed bin Hammam, the Qatari opposition candidate, withdrew himself from the running on Sunday, leaving Blatter as sole option. And Jack Warner, the infamous leader of Concacaf, urged the nations under his jurisdiction to back Blatter.

Both men had been under scrutiny from a Fifa-appointed ethics committee, as was Blatter himself. The former two were suspended - possibly briefly - while Blatter was exonerated.

What is extraordinary in all this, is the English sense of moral outrage at the fact that this huge international business and marketing party goes on and on without them. In a BBC Radio 4 documentary aired this week, David Goldblatt, author of The Ball is Round, tracks back the creation of Fifa early last century, as an amateur organisation from which England remained apart "suspicious of foreigners". Little has changed, it seems.

Yet ironically, for a nation so concerned that the World Cup has been adjudicated to Russia and Qatar for the forthcoming 2018 and 2022 events, the English FA seems to turn a blind eye to the fact that they are the Football Association which has handed over its club football to 'foreign' investors more than any other on the planet. The Premier League would not be the nirvana it currently is without Russian and Arab money, and the FA certainly would not have lost so much of its influence and credibility if it had not allowed the Premier League to take over the running of the domestic game.

Fifa took off as a world power in the 1970s when the English president Sir Stanely Rous lost his position to Joao Havelange, a Brazilian multi-millionaire who had the nous to form a close partnership with Adidas in the hope of raising enough money to be able to deliver his electoral campaign promise to the African nations he had included in the executive committee.

In the 1960s, Africa had to share a single World Cup place with Asia and Oceania, and according to Goldblatt, Rous had been resistant to exclude apartheid South Africa from the governing body, something that other African nations requested.

Understanding Africa as a continent with different nations mirrored Havelange's approach to his own home turf - the whole of the Americas were given membership to Fifa as individual countries, no matter how small and how devoid of football tradition and culture they were. Hence, for instance, Jack Warner's current power controlling the block vote of the Caribbean region.

Adidas' support as a marketing power was expanded to add Coca Cola, keen to reach a market hitherto untapped in communist countries and India for instance. It was in the late '70s that Fifa realised they needed control of the stadia and merchandise if they were to be able to help their sponsors reach the audiences football reached.

By the '80s, the entire package we take for granted today, was perfected. TV rights which had originally been free were becoming valued in millions and a single brand per category of sponsor meant several gigantic multi-national corporations could link their names to the world's most popular sport, enhancing advertising reach to an extent undreamt of a few years earlier. Today, the money involved in the entire operation exceeds any other business as do the captive audiences.

It is quite right that we demand some accountability and some sense of responsibility from the old men at Fifa who pat each other's backs and get richer by the minute. But the problem is establishing exactly who Fifa ought to be accountable to - the credibility of most governing institutions and most established authorities is waning in the modern world. People have access to more information and trust in financial institutions and governments alike is not something we take for granted.

In England, there was some excitement at the fact that Visa and Coca Cola issued mild statements expressing 'discomfort' with the allegations of corruption within Fifa's corridors of power, yet we really ought to be deeply suspicious of placing the moral standard of our beloved football under the tutelage of corporations who have historically shown profit maximisation which ought to be procured at the expense of ethical practice.

During England's leading current affairs question and answer programme recently, Question Time, lawyer Julia Hartley-Brewer said: "The way Blatter does business is the way most people do business, " and she further suggested that in order to witness a World Cup at home during our lifetime, the FA should simply have offered a bigger bribe.

Perhaps what sits at odds with most of the world is precisely this methodology which the Fifa old school have been implementing for 30 odd years: now we call it bribe, but back then it was simply business as usual.

Blatter, needless to say, "won" the election with a ballot paper which had only his name on it.

But even in the Zurich headquarters, the global demand for transparency has been heard. It was always unlikely the English FA would be the ones to rock the boat, but at the same time some gestures towards acknowledging the current climate will have to begin to emerge.

Fifa may be guilty of many sins, but giving voice and vote to developing nations, and including the whole world in the football party is not their biggest sin. By behaving as if it was, the English FA will only further alienate themselves from the modern world.

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