There’s a strong scent of fish around the Sepp Blatter ‘schlock’. Football fans seem pretty unmoved. It’s not like no-one knows how grubby international football is and, frankly, most people just want to watch decent football. Most folk don’t seem that bothered about the dodgy-ness and if they want ethics they’ll go see a priest/Imam/Rabbi. The sponsors all know this, and FIFA knows the sponsors know this.
The ‘good guys’ (developed nations) turn out, upon closer inspection, to be represented mainly by enormously wealthy people – most of them rich through the medium of football in general and a system with the World Cup at its apex in particular. They’re complaining not about the insane amount of free money sloshing around football in Europe over the years, much of it emanating from FIFA, the huge cuts taken by agents, the vast pay of people running the FA and the like – i.e. them – but instead about the ability of developing countries to vote on equal terms with developed states. But wait, in every other moral sphere people like Greg Dyke are quick to tell us that the UN, with its one vote per nation set-up, should be the arbiter of whether it’s OK to wage war and whatnot. Here, when the clear majority of nations support the ‘wrong’ candidate, equal voting is apparently an outrage.
The simple fact is that football is way grubbier than most industries, including in Europe, and it has licence to be that way because politicians know that many fans care more about football than virtually anything else. It’s why ‘England’ only really became animated on the matter of FIFA corruption when it got the politics wrong and lost its share of the FIFA World Cup booty they’d have got from hosting the World Cup. It’s why tubby politicians wobble around on football pitches and talk endlessly about their love for some team or other. And it’s why the UK establishment, including the great majority of sport journalists, have turned an uninterested eye over the years to dodgy transfer pay-offs, bungs, inflated salaries, ticket and merchandise rip-offs and local politicians using vast amounts of local taxpayers money to subsidise privately-owned football clubs for no reason beyond currying favour with fans. Jesus, even leaving aside the lack of a single male player feeling able to say he’s gay because the football environment’s too hostile, or the lack of managerial careers for smart black players, football’s a moral cesspool licensed to be such by it’s huge popularity and the vastly entertaining spectacle it truly is.
It’s all about the money, and as long as the graft is kept within reasonable limits then everyone’s happy. The complaint of the developed nations appears to be that some FIFA officials are risking spoiling it all for everyone by going to far, giving too much to the Africans and then getting caught. “You’ve brought in the feds and now we could all be screwed”. I mean, it’s not the epitome of the moral argument, is it? No, and it isn’t intended to be. The great and good in Europe want Blatter out of the way to kill the story, then they can get back to business as usual. And, frankly, that’s what the fans want too.
And the Americans? Well, don’t diss the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act and don’t shift your bribes around in dollars and they probably won’t be back. Oh, yeah, and don’t be Vladimir Putin either, obviously.
Years ago, in a gentler sport, the Japanese wanted to stop blue judo suits being used in international judo. They flooded Africa with second-hand, white judo suits and, hey presto, won the relevant vote at the time to block blue suits. Judo folk across the world smiled benignly at the cunning of the Japanese, although the latter lost the battle in the long term. It looks like Blatter has just operated to the same broad rule – spread the ‘goodness’ and win the votes. It’s quite, er, uncommon to hear UK football pundits, FA bods and generally the great and good of football bemoaning slow economic development in African states, right? How come? It’s not that they’ve been too busy hoovering up all the cash and putting it into sacks in their garages to spend time getting the sports politics of the developing world right, is it?
Oops, yes it is. Watch that change sharpish.