Can it be that the great fantasy kingdom of Fifa has finally collapsed? Is this the fall of Oz? Is it possible that this vast sporting organisation – one that has survived for so many years on sheer effrontery – is now on collision course with reality?
The Swiss police’s dawn raid on the headquarters of the organisation that runs football across the world, arresting some of its most prominent citizens on charges of corruption, must surely bring revolution and destruction in its wake.
That is what happens in the end to most fantasy kingdoms. It’s what happened to the International Olympic Committee, but Fifa never took the warning. Sepp Blatter, Fifa president, assumed that it would go on like this forever: no doubt, like Louis XVI, he wrote this morning in his diary the single word rien.
Revolution came to the IOC when it was finally, uncompromisingly and unduckably made clear that the organisation was stinking, putrid and rotten with corruption. Too many people had taken bribes to vote for Salt Lake City as hosts for the Winter Games of 2002. Reform, transparency and public accountability had to follow.
But not at Fifa. They thought they were immune, just as Louis XVI declared that the French people were incapable of regicide. And so Russia got the vote to host the World Cup in 2018; England, with a much better bid, scarcely got a single vote because an English newspaper had claimed that Fifa was corrupt.
At the same election Fifa also voted to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Qatar! Qatar has only 2.1 million people, hardly any stadiums or hotels and summer temperatures that make football impossible. But Qatar has a lot of money. It was a reckless decision that made it clear for all time that whatever Fifa is run for, it’s certainly not for the betterment of football.
All the international sports organisations were initially set up for the betterment of sport. But as sport became a major public entertainment, there was suddenly an awful lot of money sloshing about. And that means power. Sporting administration became a wonderful career opportunity for power-crazed old men: the more attractive because of the almost complete lack of any attendant responsibility. They could travel about the world looking important and make a good deal of money while doing so.
But for all such flawed systems, it’s not a question of establishing a thousand-year Reich: it’s about how long you can get away with it. Fifa has managed to last longer than the unreconstructed IOC. But now it seems that things will have to change.
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