FIFA vote farce

FIFA From Rous to Blatter: All For The Good Of The Game!

FIFA vote farceOnce upon a time, FIFA was not corrupt, it was just a Eurocentric empire run for the good of a few countries in western Europe unwilling to open the doors of the World Cup to the rest of the world. Those were the 1960s, when Englishman Stanley Rous’ FIFA preferred to pander to the racist South African football association over finding ways to integrate the developing world into its halls of power. Or when Rous let games take place in the bloodstained torture chamber of the Pinochet regime in Chile.

I suppose those were the good ol’ days.

As Tim Vickery puts it in an important historical reminder of all that today, there is a reason much of the rest of the world is less up in arms about the Blatter era than the English press.

There was no pre-Havelange and Blatter garden of Eden — just a different FIFA with different defects. With its lack of historical context it is unclear whether the current hysteria in the English press is motivated by a genuine desire to carry the game forward on a global basis — or by nostalgia for when English rule was unchallenged.

The lack of accountability of the current FIFA is surely unsustainable, the quasi-feudal personal fiefdoms that develop inside the organization are disturbing and the fat-cat lifestyle of some of those at the top makes the stomach turn. But for all its flaws and problems, it is not hard to understand why much of the developing world prefers the post-Havelange FIFA to what came before.

Of course, from any objective standpoint of the good of world soccer, the fact that FIFA was f*cked up in the pre-Havelange era doesn’t make it any more right for it to be f*cked up in the post-Havelange era. Havelange and Blatter have made corruption and commercial exploitation a way of life in the sport’s global governing bodies. That may beat colonialist arrogance as a defining ruling trait, but not by a lot.

The cesspool of corruption that has followed the game’s drastic commercialisation under Havelange/Blatter is a great betrayal of the movement that overthrew Rous’ arrogant rule. The overthrow of Eurocentric rule in the 1970s was born of a genuine desire to spread the game around the world and allow more nations into the World Cup, a development that has allowed it to become a kaleidoscope of global talent on display.

Back then, there were administrators from the developing world who wanted to use their growing voice within the game to end discrimination and racism in sport, and to protect world soccer from the deleterious effects of rampant commercialism.

What would Ydnekatchew Tessema, the head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in the 1970s and a true visionary of the game from Ethiopia, make of today’s farcial FIFA election? Or that each FIFA confederation (perhaps excluding UEFA) is run by a tainted leader?

It was Tessema who helped forge the coalition that ousted Rous in 1974 with the election of Havelange, but it was not with CAF being used as a tool of Havelange – rather, it was a necessary move by CAF to end the roadblock to African development Rous seemed insistent upon. As Paul Darby wrote in his excellent book Africa, Football and FIFA:

The fact that Tessema was in a position to threaten the withdrawal of African support for Havelange’s presidential challenge illustrates that CAF was not only gaining confidence to assert itself within world football politics but was also beginning to recognise the potential that its voting powers offered the African continent. Indeed, it is clear from African accounts of the 1974 FIFA Congress . . . that the African nations did not see themselves merely as pawns in a power struggle for the control of FIFA. Instead, they saw Havelange as the means through which to achieve a realignment of the distribution of power and privilege within world football which would more adequately reflect their growing stature.

Tessema led the push for Africa to receive more places at the World Cup by fighting for the principle that each nation should have one vote within the governing body, one that Rous had tried to circumvent. Rous was blunt about his belief developing nations did not deserve the same rights within the global game:

Many people are convinced that it is unrealistic, for example, that a country like England, where the game started and was first organised, or that experienced countries like Italy and France, who have been pillars of FIFA and influential in its problems and in world football affairs for so many years, should have no more than equal voting rights with any of the newly created countries of Africa and Asia.

Tessema was curt in his response to this patronising attitude.

Although we acknowledge the role played by certain continents in the creation of FIFA, its development and their moral, material and financial contributions, we estimate that democratic rule dictates that all rights and duties that form an international organisation should be the same for all. This is why in the framework of legitimacy, and by following a process consistent with the interests of world football and its unity, a progressive equilibrium of the representation in the heart of FIFA and its competition is required.

At the same time, Tessema was cautious about submitting to the tide of dollars flooding into the sport: Tessema fought against alcohol and tobacco sponsorship in African football, and warned against the consequences of young talent leaving African shores. In the mid-1980s, not long before his premature death from cancer, Tessema stated:

African football must make a choice! Either we keep our players in Africa with the will power of reaching one day the top of the international competitions and restore African people a dignity that they long for; or we let our best elements leave their countries, thus remaining the eternal suppliers of raw material to the premium countries, and renounce, in this way, to any ambition. When the rich countries take away from us, also by naturalisation, our best elements, we should not expect any chivalrous behaviour on their part to help African football.

It is sadly now the case that FIFA under the Havelange-Blatter regime has largely made African football a pawn for its own needs by submitting world football to the power of money for its own rapacious greed, with the corruption that has wrought around the world. That money is now the tool by which Blatter maintains his fiefdom, and that corrupt the successors of Tessema. There are no Tessemas today.

Nor is there any chivalry in the way FIFA operates. One example can be seen in the distribution of money from the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa – most of the money, of course, kept by FIFA itself.

Sepp Blatter explained that the money actually paid out was to be given to those who had developed young talent. “We are pleased that we can share the success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup with the clubs by providing them a share of the benefits of our flagship event, in particular to recognise their efforts in the development of young players.”

Those payments did not go to the countries from which these players developed and that desperately need it, but to the rich European clubs who poached them at young ages. The largest payments from FIFA after the 2010 World Cup went to clubs from England ($5,952,133.30), Germany ($4,740,666.70), Italy ($3,880,666.70), Spain ($3,699,066.70), France ($2,202,666.70) and the Netherlands ($1,858,266.70). The first African nation in the list is South Africa, with its clubs receiving $662,666.70.

FIFA uses its largesse to cement the support that earns Blatter 186 votes even after all the revelations of the past year, and indeed, past decade – the rest of the world is also bought off by dubious development programmes whose monies often end up in brown envelopes, as we wonder where the development actually is.

FIFA has certainly overseen a massive expansion of the game’s popularity worldwide since the Rous era, and part of that does explain the continued support for the Blatter regime as Vickery says. The English FA’s hypocrisy is hard to stomach, given their willingness to play FIFA’s game until their failed 2018 World Cup bid and the lonely fight against FIFA’s obvious corruption that Andrew Jennings was left to.

Still, that is no reason for the rest of the world to say that makes turning a blind eye to Blatter OK. FIFA has co-opted and corrupted the growth of world soccer for its own benefit rather than fostered it in a truly beneficial way for the grassroots of the sport – at least in the postwar era. The history of the treatment of women’s football (short shorts?!) or the struggle it took for African football to gain recognition in the halls of FIFA is evidence of that, nevermind the blatant bribery present and submission to the power of the dollar above all. The support for Blatter in the FIFA Congress is not high-minded, it is deeply self-interested.

And when we are left hoping for sponsors to save the world’s game from FIFA, remember this. The last few weeks have certainly dented FIFA and Blatter, but it’s hard to see where the movement to truly reform it for the good of the goddamn game will come from in this day and age.

11 thoughts on “FIFA From Rous to Blatter: All For The Good Of The Game!

  1. Evan

    Truly outstanding, Tom.

    From an American perspective, while I’m glad to see prominent attention paid toward FIFA’s corruption (particularly from our leading soccer writer, Grant Wahl), I have to wonder where this critical focus was prior to the USA losing out on hosting the 2022 World Cup.

  2. timmyg

    Good stuff as always Tom. Glad to see your posting more often after that hiatus.

    While it’s true FIFA was no saintly entity prior to the 1970s, and the English hyprocrisy also ignores their own FA’s haughtiness toward FIFA’s inception, but at least there was some form of rationale to it. Not saying I agreed with the meritocracy, but one could see where the Eurocentrism was coming from considering the varying cultural and political dynamics during the 50s/60s/70s.

    What is there to understand now though? This kleptocratic cartel is so brazen in their corruption that they distort all forms of reality. The latest corruption charges came from within FIFA (Chuck Blazer to be exact), but all the in FIFA-land the blame goes to the English media. No one mentioned Jack Warner or MbH. The Cyrpriot FA guy said the word “allegation” is some mystical English notion. The Argentine FA President demanded England return the Falkland Islands, a demand that transcends all rationality.

    @Evan — For most yanks, this is really the first time, including mine, we’ve experienced FIFA’s dealings erupting like it has. How many US footy fans were there when the ISL scandal happened as opposed to now, a third?

  3. Tim Vickerman

    The best, most comprehensive and balanced article I’ve read on the subject (and I’ve read many in the last few days). Yes, pre-1974 FIFA was also flawed and yes, the FA should have made a stronger stand by refusing to enter the bidding for the 2018 World Cup when it became apparent what they would have to do to be in with any chance of getting it. Yes, it is frustrating that it’s taken for so long for more journalists to cover the claims Andrew Jennings has been making for years.

    But it is the right cause. The fact that Blatter has been in charge while all of this has been going on and is insisting that he is the man to clean up FIFA is laughable. And that he intends to bring transparency and accountability to FIFA, but feels that can only be done from within is truly astounding. The problem is that FIFA is answerable to no organisation and makes threats when the possibility of political pressure is raised.

    Perhaps the best way is to continue the fight through the media.

  4. David Stubbs

    Super piece, Tom. Extraordinary, the division of those paltry monies after 2010 – ironic to see the reviled England getting the biggest share.

  5. dave

    Great piece Tom – only caveat I’d add is that whilst the sums apportioned to clubs reflect where talent gets hoovered up, to some degree the much larger distributions to national federations (the pro-rata standard to all 208 members and the larger sum paid to qualifying countries) is supposed to do the work or rewarding the place where the players are from. The shame is that the word ‘development’ is essentially a weasel word,covering genuine development of infrastructure, through to backhanders. The main use, it seems to me, is that it greases the pork barrelling at national level, which ensures the guy who gets to go to FIFA HQ goes with the imperative to not rock the boat, and the guy who comes back having not rocked it is set fair to distribute patronage and cash on projects that reward those who supported him.

    The entire system works much more like standard oligarchies like the USSR, medieval Church etc. Blatter’s talk of the pyramid is correct, but it’s not the football pyramid as we might understand it. It’s the patronage pyramid, in which everyone looks after everyone else – as long as they are in the family. Everyone else can – politely – get stuffed. We don’t have a vote and don’t have a voice. The real project is democratisation of national associations, but we’re in catch-22 land, as the national governments who could do this are scared off it by FIFA through their broadly interpreted statute against any form of governmental interference. That is what needs to be tackled as a priority.

  6. Tom

    Indeed, Dave – that’s what I was alluding to perhaps too vaguely in the following paragraph: “FIFA uses its largesse to cement the support that earns Blatter 186 votes even after all the revelations of the past year, and indeed, past decade – the rest of the world is also bought off by dubious development programmes whose monies often end up in brown envelopes, as we wonder where the development actually is.”

    Interesting analogy to Soviet Union, except it’s an oligarchy with a fountain of wealth from the free market that keeps growing to sustain it instead of a crumbling command economy!

    I agree as well about the possible solution, and I’d love to hear more from you on what role you think fan associations could potentially play to pressure their associations and governments for reform….

  7. Steve Dawson

    FIFA is an absolute joke. They swan around the world taking money from football associations who are stupid enough to offer bribes. As for the Argentine delegate wanting the falklands in return for his vote, that is in his own national interest and has nothing to do with what is best for the beautiful game.

    IMO England should pull out of this circus because as long as FIFA is the way it is then the game cannot move on.

  8. Leo Hoenig

    FIFA now gives a grant of US$250,000 to each association, plus discretionary grants through the goal projects. This money is vital to the running of the FAs in small countries.
    However, FIFA does not insist on any particular accounting standards as to how the money is spent. Not only that, but it threatens to suspend and isolate any country whose FA is interferred with by government agencies. This is a great rule if used to stand up to dictatorships but not if used against countries who want to investigate cases of local corruption, (say Ghana), or those where the FA cannot simply fill in registration forms correctly (Brunei). At least FIFA has stood back from the chaos in Indonesia.

  9. Mike from Oz

    Fifa, the only organisation that makes the Olympic Committee look like angels. I wish the same sort of outcry about the 2022 bid was happening in Australia as is happening in England with their 2018 bid. So much tax payer money wasted when apparently, we didn’t have a chance anyway, well not without spending hundreds of millions bribing 3/4′s of Fifa’s officials