The euphoria that followed Nigeria’s 4-1 victory over Argentina was tempered a little by the squad the visitors put out, which was a B or perhaps a C team. What was even more upsetting was that despite having what was a reasonable team on paper, they could barely string 3 passes together and looked utterly disjointed. How much of that was down to Argentina being poor or Nigeria being good is debatable, but most came away from that match doubting its overall value. Those doubts have been magnified since FIFA revealed it was beginning an investigation into irregular betting patterns during the game. It turns out that the referee, Ibrahim Chaibou, was also the referee for another match under investigation between Bahrain and a ‘fake’ Togolese national team. This is probably not a coincidence, but we will see.
It is a little ironic that FIFA will investigate anything right now, given the very eventful past few months it has had. Allegations of corruption have surrounded the organisation for years, but the lid has been well and truly lifted on some of the activities of the football ‘family’. Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii, both members of FIFA’s Executive Committee, were suspended late last year over a cash-for-votes scandal, but things really got interesting this year when Mohammed Bin Hammam decided to run against Sepp Blatter for the Presidency, after saying in August last year that he wouldn’t run. Chuck Blazer then torpedoed Bin Hammam’s candidacy by coming forward with allegations that Bin Hammam and Jack Warner offered bribes for votes for the 2022 hosting rights, which Qatar, Bin Hammam’s country, won. As a result, Bin Hammam stood down as Blatter’s challenger pending an investigation by the Ethics Committee, leaving the incumbent to run unopposed and win the election. In many ways, Blatter is like a sit-tight African ruler, using state apparatus to muzzle his opponents. By the time Blatter leaves in 2015, he would have been President for 17 years, after being General Secretary for 17 years before that. Senior Vice President Julio Grondona has been atop the Argentine Football Association since 1979. Ricardo Teixeira has led the Brazilian Football Federation since 1989. Nicolas Leoz has led CONMEBOL since 1986, Jack Warner has led CONCACAF since 1990, Issa Hayatou has led CAF since 1987. Before Michel Platini beat Lennart Johannsson in 2007, Johannsson had led UEFA for 17 years.
FIFA is a dictatorship made up of many smaller ones, and dictatorships are about money. There is so much more money in the game now than there was two decades ago. FIFA is listed as a charity, so they pay no taxes. They are also not accountable financially to anyone. Countries that win the right to host FIFA tournaments grant tax exemptions to the organisation and it’s sponsors. The global appeal of football, vast sums of free money and lack of external accountability with regard to expenditure and decision-making are an intoxicating combination that has reduced world football’s governing body to a farce, a tragic comedy the script of which could only have been written by a group of people who have over stayed their welcome on the global football stage by several years.
This latest scandal has made it abundantly clear that FIFA and it’s constituent confederations need renewal. They need an internal revolution not unlike what has been happening in the Arab world since January. They need younger leaders who will adopt progressive ideas, like goal line technology and instant replays, are long overdue. Real reforms, like clear criteria for hosting bids and a more transparent voting process are also important. Hopefully, this happens sooner rather than later, for the good of the game.