Is FIFA going to collapse?

FIFA doesn’t deserve to survive. Yet survival through the years is surely Blatter’s, like Havelange’s, middle name. By Brian Glanville.

If only… Yet there does seem a possibility, not wholly remote, that FIFA, in the words once used by Communist apparatchiks, could collapse under the pressure of its own contradictions. And all because of the insensate award of the 2022 World Cup to little Qatar. A country with no footballing tradition of any valid sort, no international team of slightest consequence, a climate ferociously hot in summer, when the major competition should be played; yet a bottomless pit of money, thanks to the riches beneath its desert sands.

Almost inevitably, one feels, it seems increasingly likely that there will be an increasing pressure to play the tournament during the European winter. This despite the appalling harm, confusion and financial costs this could impose on major European club football. Already the Premier League is said to be believe that such a placement of the tournament would do such enormous harm not merely for one year but three to their own competition.

That Qatar acquired the World Cup fair and square has never appeared convincing. Though Michel Platini, however disastrous a president of UEFA he may be, in sharp contrast to such a glorious footballer, is surely high above suspicion. He simply seems prey to mindless choices. Such as, bloating the finals of the European Championship to 24 entrants, just as FIFA’s ineffable Sepp Blatter has bloated the World Cup, thus fatally, diluting the quality of the competition.

As though this were not enough, Platini has made things worse still by his folly of already choosing Turkey as the site of the finals, when he should have been well aware that Turkish sport had other commitments. Meaning that it was too late to find a single, or even a double host for the tournament, which is now doomed to be farcically and inconveniently spread about between a number of centres in a number of different countries.

You would have thought that at least UEFA, as the representative of European football, would lead the campaign to prevent Qatar running a World Cup in winter but not a bit of it. Platini and, couldn’t you guess, Sepp Blatter (who according to a German journalist has 50 new ideas a day of which 51 are bad) support the idea of a World Cup in winter. With His Master’s apparent Voice, one Giani Infantino, now the general secretary of UEFA (no, I have never heard of him either) proclaiming: “Wherever you play the World Cup should be the best period for it. I had the same reflections on South Africa in 2010. It was a pity it was winter. Four years earlier, in Germany, it was nice sunshine. South Africa is a beautiful country but at 5 p.m. it’s night … It’s not a celebration of football then.” Why wasn’t it?

“I fully share this view that you have to play in the best period for football. That is not June or July in Qatar.” (Hardly, when the summer temperature can go up to 50 degree centigrade.) “This is an idea, that FIFA has to sort out. The sooner they do it, the better. The decision for 2022 was taken in 2010, so in 12 years you can organise yourself.” But who will organise Platini and Infantino, not to mention the egregious Blatter, who now seems quite ready to carry on for yet another four dismal years when his present FIFA presidency ends, since it appears that his likely successor Platini doesn’t want it.

The blunt and bitter truth is that FIFA itself is beyond hope and beyond redemption. Ever since the outrageous Joao Havelange, buying the votes of African readers with money from the coffers of the Brazilian Football Confederation at Frankfurt in 1974 prised Sir Stanley Rous out of the FIFA presidency, the organisation has been an Augean stables of mismanagement and all too frequent malfeasance. A few months ago, Havelange was finally deprived of his honorary presidency of FIFA, as a result of a belated inquiry into the massive speculation which went on into the scandal of the now defunct ISL organisation and the huge million-dollar bribe it paid to Havelange himself and others. Not that this will be anything of a setback to Havelange, now 96 years old and long since retired with his ill-gotten gains.

In the same investigation Blatter was not found culpable though his handling of the affair was criticised. Another Brazilian in Ricardo Teixeira, was also found guilty of taking ISL bribes. It had not stopped him being put in charge of Brazil’s programme for the coming World Cup in 2014. Teixeira was very much the dubious creation of Havelange himself, plucked from the obscurity of failed business ventures, reduced when Havelange took him under his wing to the ownership of a small and unproductive farm. Married at one time to Havelange’s daughter, he is in fact one of several who have bitten the dust after probing investigations by the independent Governance Committee vigorously led by Mark Pieth.

The emetic Jack Warner of Trinidad is another leading figure who has at long last been forced out of football for chicanery, but what a long and untroubled career he has had! Not least with the devoted support of Blatter himself, whose various affectionate messages to Warner have been exhumed in a devastating book, ‘Foul!’. Blatter needed the CONCACAF votes and Warner could, as the top man there, provide. Warner on this evidence seemed to be able to demand anything he wanted from FIFA, financially, and in support of various dubious projects.

You may well still ask how Blatter, seemingly unassailable now in an organisation in which every country, however small (and liable to financial sweeteners) had a vote, managed to succeed Havelange in the first place. In 1998, when Havelange finally resigned, the Swede Lennart Johansson seemed a red hot favourite to succeed him. But somehow or other Blatter’s votes climbed till after the first ballot, Johansson stood down, realising his quest was hopeless.

If the potentially outraged European federations and associations decide to dig in their heels and refuse to have anything to do with a winter World Cup in Qatar, FIFA will either have to surrender to their demands, or risk a mass departure from their membership. I suppose the more likely development would be for FIFA, Blatter and all (however determined he be to serve yet another four presidential years) to surrender and drop Qatar and its 50 degree summer heat down what George Orwell called ‘The Memory Hole’.

Ideally, FIFA itself might collapse. It doesn’t deserve to survive. Yet survival through the years is surely Blatter’s, like Havelange’s, middle name.