Could FIFA disappear?

Mohamed bin Hammam, former chief of the Asian Football Confederation, has been accused of buying votes for Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid.-AP

Facts are facts, and the recent warning by a senior administrative figure cannot easily be disregarded. His opinion being that if FIFA are found responsible for corruptly allotting the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the financial consequence could be so huge that not even such a body could survive. By Brian Glanville.

Could it be true? Could FIFA, riddled with corruption, a byword for maladministration ever since Joao Havelange deposed Stanley Rous in 1974, really be seeing a period of disintegration? In the words of Shakespeare, it’s “a consummation devoutly be wished,” but with Sepp Blatter, the gregarious heir to Havelange, an eternal survivor, still in control, perhaps one shouldn’t be too optimistic.

Yet facts are facts, and the recent warning by a senior administrative figure cannot easily be disregarded. His opinion being that if FIFA are found responsible for corruptly allotting the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the financial consequence could be so huge that not even such a body could survive.

The revelation that there was abundant dirty work at the crossroads in giving Qatar the World Cup hardly comes as a surprise, though the chapter and verse provided by a diligent investigation by the Daily Telegraph remain quite shocking. As we know, they crucially involve the ineffable Jack Warner, till not long ago the President of CONCACAF, the association of countries in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Accused of pocketing enormous bribes from the Qatari Bin Hammam, once a FIFA Presidential candidate, to support and promote Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup. This despite the fact that tiny but wealthy Qatar has no football pedigree of any relevance, and a summer climate of ferocious, stifling heat.

It transpires, hardly to one’s amazement, that Bin Hammam and his company paid almost USD2 million to Warner and his family. Warner himself got USD1.2 million; his two sons received almost another million. Alas for Warner and his sons, when a bank in the Cayman Islands refused to handle the money, it was paid into a bank in New York, which has aroused the attention of the FBI. The CIA for some reason having shown no interest in the matter.

Warner of course had been a suspect for many years, and not long before his latest exposure had been forced to resign his presidency at CONCACAF for having offered large bribes to leaders of the various Caribbean federations to support the FIFA claims of Bin Hammam; who was suspended but exonerated on appeal. Needless to say the official Qatar football authority denied all involvement with the money paid to the Warners which indeed came from a Bin Hammam company. But there is hardly smoke without abundant fire.

Scandalously, but perhaps all too predictably, a powerful group in FIFA has tried, though in vain, to halt Michael Garcia’s investigation. (The American lawyer is leading FIFA’s investigations into claims of corruption in the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.) They include the notorious veteran Argentine Julio Grondona, which is no huge surprise. Notoriously both anti-English and anti-Semitic he once declared that Jews made poor references because they didn’t like to run! (Tell that to the Israelis!) An accusation which he would grovellingly withdraw.

But South American football has long been a den of inequity. A few months ago one saw the ignominious resignation as leader of the Brazilian World Cup programme of Ricardo Teixeira. Found guilty with Havelange of having taken vast sums of money from the now defunct ISL organisation for World Cup rights, he resigned his post and fled to a safe haven. Yet how in all logic and morality was he ever appointed at all? And how for so many tarnished years did he remain one of the powers in Brazilian football? Someone with nothing but a small, failing farm to his name, when Havelange, as father-in-law, whirled him up into riches with deals in television.

It was when Teixeira in 1993 was challenged by Pele, the game’s greatest ever footballer, over a TV deal, that Havelange responded by having Pele banned from the official rostrum when the World Cup draw was made in all place — I was there — Las Vegas. Outbursts of self assertive pomposity were typical of Teixeira throughout his dubious career in Brazilian football office. And yet he was put in charge of his country’s World Cup plans. In the words of a very old Sicilian saying, “One hand washes the other.”

And Sepp Blatter? No one has charged him with any connection with the Qatar bribery. But there is all too abundant chapter and verse (see Andrew Jennings’ devastating book ‘Foul’) of Warner’s almost affectionate relationship with Blatter, who needed his CONCACAF votes and seemed on the evidence ready to grant him any financial favours he wished, to keep him on board.

We know all too well how Havelange ousted Rous as FIFA President in 1974. He bought the support of African leaders by paying their fares to Frankfurt, reportedly with money from the Brazilian Football Confederation. Quite how Blatter followed him into Presidential office in 1998, remains something of a mystery. It seemed done and dusted that the successor to Havelange would be the Swede, Lennart Johansson. But suddenly, belatedly and mysteriously came a flood of votes for Blatter and he was elected. Where with negligible opposition he has stayed. In fact on the occasion of the last Presidential vote in 2010 he sailed through, unopposed. Another old saying comes to mind. “For evil to triumph it is enough for good men to do nothing.” No, I am not calling Blatter evil but under his aegis as under that of his mentor and patron Havelange, FIFA has been a sink of iniquity.

Any hopes that Michel Platini would be an improvement on Blatter have long disappeared. It seemed incomprehensible that he as President of UEFA should have not only supported Qatar’s World Cup bid but backed the absurd idea that it should be played in the winter thus disrupting the programmes of the very European countries whose interests Platini is meant to represent. There is no evidence that he has acted in any way but honestly, yet how blinkered does that make him? Not to mention the ludicrous way he has enlarged and undermined the next European Championship, when Turkey could have taken it on. Platini as successor to Blatter? Would you rather be shot or hanged? Yet even another football giant in Franz Beckenbauer has been known to give Blatter his vote and his support.

And after the Qatari scandal, what of the award of the 2018 tournament to Russia, a country whose football is infested with racism? Heads may now roll at FIFA but as long as the organisation exists, hope is at a premium.