FIFA's crisis

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin along with FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Putin was instrumental in getting the 2018 World Cup to Russia.-AP

To those of a less deluded view, FIFA's choice of Russia and tiny Qatar for the next two World Cups stands as a monument to chicanery and corruption, writes Brian Glanville.

“FIFA is clean. FIFA does things honestly, FIFA works for football and the world.” Such were the extraordinary words of Spain's main World Cup negotiator and former international player, Ángel María Villar Llona, making you wonder which planet he inhabits. To those of a less deluded view, FIFA's choice of Russia and tiny Qatar for the next two World Cups stands as a monument to chicanery and corruption.

There is no doubt that England had by far the strongest case and I am hardly alone in saying this. Even the Russians admitted it. But to finish after spending GBP5 million and exposing both the next heir but one to the throne, Prince William, and the Prime Minister David Cameroon to grotesque humiliation, then to come up with just one valid vote, the other being their own, is the stuff of fiasco.

Qatar, in all logic, had no case at all to become one of the next but two World Cup hosts. They are a tiny country with a population of less than two million, a climate which can go well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and no record at all of footballing accomplishments. In parenthesis, there, and here in its way there is an ugly resemblance to Russia, the idea of a free press is anathema. But the Emir of Qatar with his wealth is a formidable figure and in his alarming book, “How they sold the game” David Vallop suggests that it was his money which bought the presidency of FIFA for Sepp Blatter at the expense of the hot favourite, Lennart Johansson of Sweden, in 1998 though Blatter has always denied it.

By a supreme irony, the choice of Russia as World Cup hosts for 2018 coincided almost exactly with the emission of an American diplomat's view that Russia had now become “a mafia state”. As there is abundant chapter and verse to support the view. Gone are the KGB, where Putin cut his teeth in East Germany, but their successor the FSB are a law unto themselves, with no control by the state to curb their nefarious activities. Journalists who step out of line risk, as one gallant woman did, being poisoned on a plane or, if that fails, being shot dead as indeed she was outside her own apartments.

And what of FIFA's supposedly bold campaign to “Kick out Racism”? It was made known well before the World Cup voting that this would not be a consideration in the awarding of World Cups. Just as well for Russia where racism is hideously endemic in their football. Not long ago Dick Advocaat, the celebrated Dutch manager, admitted that while he was in charge of Zenit St Petersburg he dared not sign a black player for fear of the consequences. More recently we have had the ugly phenomenon of the insulting banner flaunted by fans of Moscow Lokomotiv, thanking West Bromwich Albion for buying their talented Nigerian forward, with a banana on the banner as a symbol of such prejudice.

The humiliating spectacle of the Prime Minister of Britain genuflecting to the ineffable Jack Warner of Trinidad both in the Prime Ministerial Residence of 10, Downing Street and in Zurich itself were the stuff of embarrassment and humiliation. It was compounded when Warner even broke his promise to give the vote of the CONCACAF Federation, whose controversial leader he is, to England. Warner's machinations were detailed in Andrew Jennings' explosive book “Foul!' and Jennings it was who narrated and prepared the highly and horribly illuminating account of Warner's various escapades. Yet Sepp Blatter too needs to keep CONCACAF onside and his missives to Warner have been warmly affectionate.

Far more serious, however, were the accusations, all too well documented, in the Panorama programme of the excesses of three members of the FIFA World Cup voting committee: from Brazil (Havelange's former son-in-law), Cameroon and 82-year-old Leoz of Paraguay: between them these three peculated a cool GBP64 million from the funds of FIFA. Sepp Blatter's reaction to these damning revelations? None at all.

The truth, alas, is that there is no moral future for FIFA and there arguably never has been since, in Frankfurt in 1974, Joao Havelange of Brazil, with the help of funds acquired from the Brazilian Confederation of which he was president, imported and suborned African delegates to give him their votes. Havelange took no salary, but he hardly needed it: FIFA became virtually his piggy bank. When the honest and frustrated secretary of FIFA, Helmut Kaser, rebuked him that money coming in from CocaCola was FIFA's not his own, the appeal fell on deaf ears and it wasn't long before Kaser was forced out. To add insult to injury Blatter, then promoted to succeed him as secretary, married his daughter reducing Kaser to tears.

Between them Havelange and Blatter have bloated the World Cup to an inordinate size. It should have been still a 16-team tournament and thus manageable in 1986 but the die was clearly cast when, after the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Havelange flew out to Mexico in the private Jet of the boss of the high Televisa Mexicana TV network, so Colombia found themselves deprived of the 1986 World Cup, which went to Mexico for the second time in sixteen years, with an awkward 24 teams competing, which rose to an excessive 32 under Blatter, making the World Cup a drawn out, increasingly sterile affair, twice ending with the abomination of a penalty shootout.

Andy Anson, the uninspiring head of the English World Cup delegation, likes to put the blame on the media and insists that England should not bid for the World Cup again — nor could they till the 2026 is up for grabs — until the 22-man deciding committee is enlarged, meanwhile seeming to put the blame for the recent fiasco on the media whom he abjured as unpatriotic. A clear case of killing the messenger. Besides, with or without the Sunday Times and Panorama, it is highly dubious that England would have prevailed in Zurich.