What a tan­gled web Fifa weaves

The in­volve­ment in has its roots in the early 1970s, when a new Euro­pean elite started to rule the world of soc­cer

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Dale T McKin­ley voices@ city­press. co. za

Imag­ine this: Cit­ing the dis­cov­ery of an in­tri­cate and long­stand­ing web of state-pri­vate sec­tor cor­rup­tion, the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity or­ders the po­lice to raid a meet­ing of the ex­ec­u­tive branch of gov­ern­ment. Sev­eral high-rank­ing politi­cians are ar­rested on cor­rup­tion charges and re­lated war­rants of ar­rest are si­mul­ta­ne­ously is­sued for a range of lower-rank­ing politi­cians and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials as well as a num­ber of se­nior cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives.

Protes­ta­tions of in­no­cence and charges of fac­tional and politi­cised power plays pre­dictably fol­low. The pres­i­dent claims he knows noth­ing about any­thing and, even though he sub­se­quently re­ceives the back­ing of the Cabi­net and his party, he soon there­after an­nounces his res­ig­na­tion for the good of the na­tion.

Even if the above sce­nario is about as likely to oc­cur as it is likely to snow in Dur­ban (although, like John Len­non said, we can al­ways imag­ine), this is more or less what has just hap­pened to the global gov­ern­ing pow­er­house of soc­cer, the Fédéra­tion In­ter­na­tionale de Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (Fifa).

The events at Fifa, which have been widely cov­ered in both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional me­dia, are akin to a ma­jor earth­quake for world soc­cer. How­ever, the pre-quake tremors have been rum­bling for decades. For us to lo­cate and un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing now and as­sess the im­me­di­ate and longer-term im­pact of th­ese seis­mic events, we must look at how we got to this point.

From its early days as an or­gan­ised col­lec­tive of largely Euro­pean na­tions pre­sid­ing over an am­a­teur game, Fifa had by the 1970s be­come a cor­po­rate, money-mak­ing be­he­moth en­com­pass­ing the globe.

This trans­for­ma­tion par­al­leled soc­cer’s in­te­gra­tion into the global devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism it­self with multi­na­tional cor­po­rate cap­i­tal “as­so­ci­at­ing with and in­creas­ingly im­ping­ing on ma­jor sports in search of prof­its and im­age en­hance­ment”.

The sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship was ce­mented at Fifa’s 1974 congress. Horst Dassler, CEO of sports cor­po­ra­tion Adi­das, en­sured the elec­tion of dic­ta­tor-lov­ing Brazil­ian João Have­lange as Fifa pres­i­dent by lav­ish­ing mon­e­tary sup­port on tar­geted del­e­gates (mostly from Africa, Asia and Latin Amer­ica).

In quick time, Dassler’s new sports-mar­ket­ing cor­po­ra­tion, In­ter­na­tional Sports and Leisure, was granted ex­clu­sive mar­ket­ing rights for the World Cup and, soon, a whole host of cor­po­rates, in­clud­ing newly pri­va­tised me­dia out­fits, joined the Fifa party.

Fifa then changed its con­sti­tu­tion, en­sur­ing all mean­ing­ful de­ci­sions on com­pe­ti­tions and com­mer­cial rights would be con­trolled by a new soc­cer elite en­sconced at Fifa’s head­quar­ters as well as its af­fil­i­ated con­ti­nen­tal con­fed­er­a­tions and na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions. At the apex was Fifa’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee,

Source: The Guardian an­swer­able to no one but them­selves – and their cor­po­rate spon­sors. By the 1990s, Fifa had be­come an all-pow­er­ful supra­na­tional characterised by a web of en­demic cor­rup­tion.

En­ter Joseph “Sepp” Blat­ter. As Fifa’s gen­eral sec­re­tary, he was closely as­so­ci­ated with Have­lange and In­ter­na­tional Sports and Leisure. Blat­ter con­tested the pres­i­dency at Fifa’s 1998 congress against an­other Euro­pean, re­form can­di­date Len­nart Jo­hans­son. De­spite all in­di­ca­tions of a Jo­hans­son victory, it was Blat­ter who was vic­to­ri­ous.

It took more than a decade for some of the truth sur­round­ing Blat­ter’s victory to be re­vealed. Then So­ma­lian foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Farah Addo ad­mit­ted in an in­ter­view with Bri­tain’s Daily Mail that although the Con­fed­er­a­tion of African Foot­ball had com­mit­ted all its votes to Jo­hans­son, money had been of­fered – and ac­cepted – to switch votes. Ac­cord­ing to Addo, “the night be­fore the elec­tion … peo­ple were lining up to re­ceive money. Some told me they got $5 000 be­fore the vote and the same the next day af­ter Blat­ter won.”

Blat­ter’s cash-filled elec­tion en­sured that the sta­tus quo re­mained. For 17 years, he has shut­tered up the trans­parency

Graph­ics24 blinds, de­flect­ing myr­iad al­le­ga­tions and ex­posés of World Cup bribery and the cor­rupt deal­ings of nu­mer­ous Fifa of­fi­cials.

Even hard ev­i­dence given in a Swiss court in 2008 that In­ter­na­tional Sports and Leisure had paid more than $100 mil­lion in bribes to un­named of­fi­cials of global sports fed­er­a­tions – in­clud­ing Fifa – was brushed aside. Through­out, Blat­ter and his Fifa min­ions were sup­ported and ac­tively courted by sovereign na­tional states, their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and lead­ers.

Now that the fes­ter­ing rot of Fifa’s world has been par­tially ex­posed to the same global con­stituency it has for so long taken for a ride, the op­por­tu­nity ex­ists to fi­nally clean up and heal the world’s most popular sport. Those who are cul­pa­ble – what­ever po­si­tion they hold and wher­ever they are from – must be held accountable and pun­ished ac­cord­ingly. While law en­force­ment agen­cies in the US are presently the main in­ves­ti­ga­tors and pur­suers, all rel­e­vant in­ter­na­tional bod­ies as well as na­tional gov­ern­ments will need to ac­tively join the cleanup ef­fort.

If geopo­lit­i­cal point scor­ing and na­tional chau­vin­ism are al­lowed to dom­i­nate, whether em­a­nat­ing from large or smaller na­tions, the chances that ei­ther Fifa or the game of soc­cer will be able to move for­ward are slim. Sim­i­larly, a mere shift­ing of the ex­ist­ing lead­er­ship deck chairs is not go­ing to cut it.

The op­por­tu­nity that is now pre­sented should not be sac­ri­ficed on the pre­dictable al­tar of “change the make-up, keep the sys­tem”.

In­deed, the his­tory of Fifa shows us the cur­rent cri­sis of soc­cer is a global, struc­tural one. Yes, Blat­ter, other se­nior Fifa and af­fil­i­ated of­fi­cials and those in the as­so­ci­ated cor­po­rate world have much to an­swer for as in­di­vid­u­als. But it is the en­tire or­gan­i­sa­tional and de­vel­op­men­tal model of soc­cer that Fifa orig­i­nated and has presided over for decades that needs to change.

The peo­ple of the global South have noth­ing to fear and ev­ery­thing to gain from such a change. Af­ter all, they are not only the dom­i­nant au­di­ence of and par­tic­i­pants in the world of soc­cer; their na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions form the ma­jor­ity of Fifa’s membership. By be­com­ing in­volved in a strug­gle for the demo­cratic recla­ma­tion of Fifa as well as na­tional fed­er­a­tions, the op­por­tu­ni­ties for a more eq­ui­table and just soc­cer or­der will be greatly en­hanced.

Fifa is in this mess be­cause the few who have run it turned their backs on the many who ac­tu­ally make up the game it­self – the many mil­lions of peo­ple who play the game and the bil­lions who are fans.

Just as gen­uine democ­racy de­mands that gov­ern­ments and those who lead them are trans­par­ent and accountable, so too does it de­mand the same of what is, af­ter all, the peo­ple’s game.

McKin­ley is an in­de­pen­dent writer, re­searcher, lec­turer and ac­tivist

Blat­ter re­signs, end­ing a 17-year ten­ure dogged by cor­rup­tion scan­dals. Ear­lier in the day, Fifa’s sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Jérôme Val­cke, comes un­der pres­sure af­ter ev­i­dence emerges that he was aware of a $10 mil­lion al­leged bribe pay­ment from South African of­fi­cials to then Con­ca­caf pres­i­dent Jack Warner

Seven Fifa of­fi­cials are ar­rested by Swiss po­lice af­ter a re­quest from US au­thor­i­ties. They are al­leged to have been in­volved in a cor­rup­tion scan­dal to­talling more than $150 mil­lion. Hours af­ter the ar­rests, Swiss pros­e­cu­tors open a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids

Garcia com­plains that his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2018 and 2022 bid­ding process was mis­rep­re­sented in a sum­mary ver­sion pub­lished by Han­sJoachim Eck­ert, the chair of Fifa’s ethics com­mit­tee. Fifa says the mat­ter is closed

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