Monday, 6 December 2010

Forget England: it's reform of FIFA that matters

Who's really celebrating?
There is an unpleasant smell of opportunism and sour grapes (some would say rank hypocrisy) about 'Team England' suddenly getting the FIFA reform bug after their humiliation - not mere defeat - in the process to secure the venues for the World Cup in 2018 (plausibly, Russia) and 2022 (wholly implausibly, Qatar).  England 2018 boss Andy Anson calls for Fifa reform, declared the Beeb boldly. FA chief executive Alex Horne wants Fifa reform, announced the Guardian (with a bit of modesty and perspective, unlike the trumpeting tabloids).

Hang on, though. Aren't these the very same people who, with their political and business friends in tow, were - until the announcement of their undoing by a clearly delighted Sepp Blatter - busily attacking BBC 'Panorama' and the Sunday Times for exposing FIFA's (how shall we put this gently?) "alleged lack of probity"? The same people sucking up shamelessly and fruitlessly to the likes of Jack Warner? Yes, indeed. One minute anti-corruption reporting was 'unpatriotic', the next we're all on the side of the angels. Well, when it comes to voting reform to enable 'us' to have a chance of winning, anyway. As usual, David Conn is dead right. Ethical blindness has been the problem for some time.

The shambles of the FA and the dangerously dire state of international body, not to mention the money-grabbing values of Premier League, form a sad indictment of those who have come to run the modern game of football from the very top. Root and branch change is needed. In the case of FIFA the issue is not corruption allegations against individuals alone (important though those are), but the whole rotten, unaccountable edifice - including its capacity to bully recipients of its Big Prize into re-writing national laws, abrogating human rights and creating mini tax havens for the duration of a World Cup. This kind of thing is beyond reprehensible. The problem is that, with the exception of some very determined journalists, there is no natural or organisable grassroots constituency for change, of the kind that challenged the oligarchs at Liverpool, for instance.

But investigation and then radical restructuring of FIFA still matters. That big issue should not be allowed to go away, or to become the self-justificatory tool of a failed bid.

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