The FIFA fiasco

When the prominent Dutch coach Dick Advocaat managed Zenit St. Petersburg, he admitted that he dared not ever sign a black player, for fear of how they'd be abused.-AP

Claudio Sulser, who is heading a FIFA disciplinary committee, is a far more apposite figure than his predecessor, Seb Coe, a cynical choice by the FIFA powers that be, beyond doubt a very great Olympic athlete, but an innocent abroad in the Augean Stables of international football politics, writes Brian Glanville.

Having plaintively pleaded, “Trust us!” as if anybody would, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, has all too predictably and evasively spoken of “Entrapment.” Referring, of course, to the recent devastating revelations by the insight team of my own paper ‘The Sunday Times' of bribery demand by two members of the FIFA World Cup Committee. Due to decide in December who will stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii were, in police parlance, caught bang to rights demanding colossal payments to lend their votes, as they were duped into believing, to a phantom bid by the USA for the World Cup of 2022.

Since then, four other leading representatives have been impugned and are being investigated, as is alleged complicity between Spain and Qatar over the staging of World Cup 2018. A FIFA disciplinary committee is looking into things. At least we know it's headed by the laudable Claudio Sulser, once a famous Swiss international centre-forward, but how far he and it will be allowed to get is open to question. At least Sulser is a far more apposite figure than his predecessor, Seb Coe, a cynical choice by the FIFA powers that be, beyond doubt a very great Olympic athlete, but an innocent abroad in the Augean Stables of international football politics.

The choice for the 2018 tournament is between England and Russia, but it should not really be any choice at all. I say this not because I feel England has any divine right to stage a World Cup — though FIFA and even the Russians themselves admit that at this moment, England can provide the ideal facilities — but because Russia should be automatically excluded. And would be, were FIFA's kick out racism campaign be anything but an essay in monumental hypocrisy it amazed me when FIFA allowed it to be known that for all its spurious campaign, racism would not be a factor in awarding the World Cup.

Yet racism in Russian soccer is horribly endemic. A few weeks ago, when West Bromwich Albion were lucky enough to sign that gifted Nigerian attacker Peter Odemwingie from Lokomotiv Moscow the Russian club's fans held up at a match an insulting banner, thanking Albion, and displaying the picture of a banana. When the prominent Dutch coach Dick Advocaat managed Zenit St. Petersburg, he admitted that he dared not ever sign a black player, for fear of how they'd be abused. And just the other day, 50 Zenit toughs invaded a hotel to attack visiting fans of Hajduk Split, there to see their team play a Europa Cup match.

That the loud mouthed Alexei Sorokin, leader of the Russian World Cup bid, should have attacked London as the most criminal and alcoholic city in Europe bordered on sheer farce. London certainly has its drink-plagued night-time problems, but at least crusading women journalists are not poisoned on planes, then shot dead in front of their own residence as was Anna Politkovskaya. Not to mention the fatal poisoning in London on an ex-KGB officer by a former colleague, now installed as a member of the Russian Parliament and able to defy British demands for his extradition. But if I want one shocking image of the sheer falsity of FIFA's anti-racism policy, it comes from the German World Cup of 2006. Before a match involving Ukraine, both teams lined up to pledge their support for the campaign. Standing seemingly unperturbed at the end of the Ukrainian line was the manager, ex-star left-winger Oleg Blokhin, who, only a few weeks earlier, had bitterly opposed the presence of African players in his country.

The election of Brazil's Joao Havelange as FIFA President to the exclusion of England's Stanley Rous in Frankfurt in 1974 was the moment when FIFA would become beyond redemption. In his alarming, supremely well-researched book, ‘How they stole the game,' David Yallop relates how Havelange got himself elected in 1974. And how his protege Sepp Blatter, the actual FIFA President, followed him in France, fully 24 years later.

A period in which, cravenly and disastrously, the football powers of Europe gave Havelange free rein to rule, usually unopposed, and to use FIFA, though he took no salary from it, as his private domain. Even when he had finally retired as President in 1998, Havelange, after the World Cup was over, stayed on for six weeks in Paris at the luxury Hotel Bristol in the prime suite at enormous cost. He made sure of the African votes, as Yallop writes, by “getting a variety of individuals from a variety of African countries to register at their embassies that they had become, some of them overnight, duly elected FIFA delegates.” Then with Brazilian funds at their disposal, flying them to Frankfurt.

At the 1998 election, the solid Swede, Lennart Johansson, seemed a red hot favourite to succeed Havelange. He didn't. As Yallop relates, large sums of money emanating from the Emir of Qatar induced delegates to back Sepp Blatter, then FIFA Secretary, though he's always denied any knowledge of it. Blatter won. He's succeeded as Secretary Helmut Kaser, who once reminded Havelange that money pouring in from Coca Cola wasn't his but FIFA's. All in vain and of course, he couldn't last. To add insult to injury, he dissolved in tears when Blatter married his daughter.

Last year, in a New York Court, Chuck Blazer of the CONCACAF region, and FIFA's Jerome Valcke tried to supplant Mastercard at the World Cup with Visa. The woman judge brusquely threw out their case and accused them of lying. Back in Zurich, Valcke was briefly suspended, but, in no time at all, became FIFA's chief executive under Blatter.

Another alarmingly well researched book, Andrew Jennings' “Foul!” chronicles in particular the machinations of Trinidad's Jack Warner, not least his dealings with World Cup ticket allocation, his failure to pay for years on end the Gallant Trinidad's 2006 World Cup team, the ease with which he's priced large sums of money out of FIFA for debatable projects in his own domain.

None of which has stopped him frequently abusing English football, to which he has generously offered his advice. Blatter writes to him — he is, after all, the Chief of CONCACAF — with touching affection. Trust us? Why ever should we?