Sunday, July 24, 2011

A clean FIFA is still a long way off

I never thought I would be saying it, but I feel a bit sorry for Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Banned for life from football and with all his friends now deserting him. A few months ago it had all looked so rosy as he dreamed of handing the 2022 World Cup over to the winning captain in his native Doha. as FIFA President.

Maybe I was fooled, but at least the Qatari came across as pleasant and approachable, unlike the defensive Sepp Blatter or the just plain bent Jack Warner.

Bin Hammam's life ban was always coming after Chuck Blazer went running to a lawyer and photographs of sacks of cash were circulated, but how much was it Blatter gleefully opening the trap door on his presidential rival? Blazer's role in turning on his CONCACAF boss has still not been fully explained either.

''I had also worked with Jack Warner for 21 years," said Blazer, "but over the past few years as I started to look at certain things I felt very uncomfortable. This was not the way we conducted things in the past.''

In shopping Warner, was Blazer really acting out of sudden conscience, having kept silent on all of Jack's previous misdemeanours? Was he afraid the rising tide of public anger over FIFA and particularly Warner would wash him out of office too, or was he actually taking aim at Bin Hammam in revenge for the US losing the 2022 World Cup vote?

FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke's mention that Qatar had "bought" the World Cup is still open to interpretation, but since the German Football Association President Theo Zwanziger called for a review in June, nothing has happened and as it stands it is unclear how the US could force their way back into hosting the tournament.

But the with the persistent obstacle of the Gulf's summer heat, rumours about the stadia not being coolable or removable as promised and the Asian & Qatari influence at FIFA now marginalised by Bin Hammam's sacking, don't book your flights to the Middle East just yet.

Louis Freeh, the former FBI director charged with investigating the 26 bags of $40,000 delivered to the Caribbean Football Union conference which kicked off the whole furor, concluded there was "compelling circumstantial evidence" that the handouts was Bin Hammam's idea, but "no direct evidence."

Whether it was Warner or Bin Hammam or both, largesse is undoubtedly part of the FIFA's in-house culture. 'What can you do for me?' was the common cry of Executive Committee members asked for their vote by undercover reporters posing as bidding nation representatives in 2010.

Clientelism oils FIFA's wheels and is barely concealed by the game's governing body. Warner was brazen, demanding new schools and soccer pitches in exchange for support, and famously asking the Scottish F.A. to write a cheque personally to him instead of to his football association, to name but a few offences. And it would be interesting to catalogue the number of developmental projects Blatter has overseen in the developing world, and compare them to the votes he received in return.

In truth, was Bin Hammam any worse than the rest of the Ex.Co.? And if not, why are the likes of Julio Grondona and Nicolas Leoz still in a job?

FIFA House remains tottering on rotten foundations, a global empire in which we all have a stake being run like a masonic lodge in a Swiss hillside village. One absurd Presidential election, two suspect World Cup votes, three Ex.Co. members fired and another resigned in disgrace. What a sterling few months it has been for football and its leader Blatter.

And what about the survivors of this most recent purge? Here's what Brazilian Ex.Co. member Ricardo Texeira, who took bribes in exchange for media contracts in the 1990s, said yesterday:

"(I can) get away with any evilness - denying press credential, barring access, changing schedules. And what's going to happen? Nothing, because in 2015 I'm out of here."

How reassuring our sport remains in such decent hands.

-Sean O'Conor

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