FIFA intransigent

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Chairman and Chief Executive of the European Club Association, wants FIFA to clean its stable.-AP

To hand the World Cup to Qatar with its total lack of football status and tradition, not to mention the appalling heat of its summer months, passed all understanding. That large sums of money changed hands has been suggested frequently. But the choice of Qatar has tended to obscure the highly debatable choice of Russia as host for the 2018 World Cup. Over to Brian Glanville.

Scarcely had the rumour emerged that Sepp Blatter would be standing down midway through his unopposed new four-year term of FIFA Presidential office than the man himself was loudly denying it. No, he would not be making way for Michel Platini, the current President of UEFA, who has so controversially and unexpectedly, not to say depressingly, become his close ally.

Shortly before Blatter's defiant statement, there came an equally defiant blast of the trumpet from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, he too once a star European footballer, for Germany.

In his present role as Chairman and Chief Executive of the European Club Association, he declared, “It is a nice game but decided by people who are corrupt. I am not prepared to accept the current system and I am not alone. I am asking for transparency, balance and democracy in governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA. And I don't accept any longer that we should be guided by people who are not clean. Now is the moment to intervene.”

But how? These are fine words, fighting words, but Rummenigge knows full well that not only Platini but his famous compatriot Franz Beckenbauer is also friendly to Blatter. And though Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros, who is the Chief Executive of the European Professional League declared that “I am confident that FIFA recognise a totally new approach has to happen and UEFA have already started that process.”

Yet how logically can it when the President of UEFA is Platini, a declared supporter of Blatter, who is known to have supported the outrageously successful bid by tiny Qatar to stage the 2012 World Cup against all football logic, even if there is no shred of evidence that Platini acted however bizarrely in anything but deluded good faith. More recently Platini, having implemented what is meant to be a policy of fair financial play among UEFA clubs, obliging them to live within their basic means rather than on the high subsidies of billionaire owners, has recently eulogised the take over of the Paris Saint Germain club by Qatari interests, at colossal expense, opining that it will be a good thing for French football.

To hand the World Cup to Qatar with its total lack of football status and tradition, not to mention the appalling heat of its summer months, passed all understanding. That large sums of money changed hands has been suggested frequently. But the choice of Qatar has tended to obscure the highly debatable choice of Russia as hosts for the 2018 World Cup. The risible argument by FIFA that it was desirable to give the World Cup to countries which had never previously staged it never held water. All the less so when Russian football with its endemic racial prejudice flew so clearly in the face of FIFA's kick out racism campaign. But far more important is the bleak reminder that the wretched state of Russian aviation poses a serious threat to the profusion of teams which will contest the bloated World Cup tournament and which will be obliged to fly great distance across that massive country. A danger which has been all too starkly emphasised by the recent, horrifying disaster of the crash of a 19-year-old Yak 42 aircraft, causing the death of the whole of the leading Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team who were abroad.

A disaster which prompted even the President of Russia, Dimitri Medvedev, to insist, “We cannot go on like this,” as he placed flower at the scene of the crash. “We need to create modern companies that will cover all of Russia.” Needless to say that old smokescreen of pilot error, common to aviation bodies all over the world, was at first trotted out. In stark fact, it is all too well known that the Russian aviation industry has ancient, poorly maintained aircraft, weak government controls, poor pilot training and endemic cost cutting. The truth of this latest disaster appears to be that one of the plane's three engines failed, so preventing it from gaining altitude. Tempting to remember the old, scathing description of the Soviet Union as Upper Volta with rockets. 2018 may still seem far away, but you wonder whether there is sufficient time for Russia to modernise its aircraft.

Less dramatic but surely significant has been the curious case of Michel D'Hooghe and the Russian painting. The veteran Belgian, 26 years on FIFA's executive, during which, as a medical doctor, he set up the medical services department and was found to have accepted the gift of a painting, undeclared, from a Russian executive and old friend. The painting, insists the Belgian, was valueless and he is guiltless which indeed he probably is.

More significant was his tolerant attitude towards the ineffable Sepp Blatter who, far from himself constituting the dire problems faced by FIFA, is the man, in the view of d'Hooghe, to put things right. “He has to present definite changes, certainly go for complete transparency, stricter control of everything. Then we will have to judge if it goes far enough. He will do it.” And pigs might fly.