x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Fifa in need of renovation, or fumigation

Aim the wrecking ball straight for Fifa headquarters as world football's governing body is in need of major rebuilding work.

The suspended Jack Warner shows the 'private' e-mail sent to him by Jerome Valcke, the general secretary of Fifa, to the world's media.
The suspended Jack Warner shows the 'private' e-mail sent to him by Jerome Valcke, the general secretary of Fifa, to the world's media.

No … no way … absolutely not … surely not … of course not … no … and … hey … wait …


Through the recent roil of Fifa's dazzling kerfuffles, students of corruption history have wondered if the football organisation might near some sort of Salt Lake City moment that would spur drastic changes.

All along the cynical answer shouted no, because, come on, this is Fifa. Yet if a different kind of cynicism that keeps oozing out of Zurich, as it did yesterday, that original cynicism might become deluged in fresh cynicism to force non-cynical reform.

Now, a Salt Lake City moment, for those blissfully uninitiated, refers to that American city's successful bidding process for the 2002 Winter Olympics, during which organisers bribed International Olympic Committee (IOC) members with an imaginative range of baubles including tuitions for offspring, real estate, plastic surgery and helicopter rides.

The real estate probably plummeted in value by 2008, and the helicopter rides seemed silly - how old were the IOC members anyway, 12? - but if we all had our favourite graft, I would have to rank the plastic surgery No 1, especially if it involved trips to Rio de Janeiro. The very idea of saying you had the wrinkles around the eyes ironed out in exchange for helping some drowsy Utah city get a world-class luge facility must have been a peerless conversation-starter.

In Fifa's case, of course, the anecdote involves a presidential election, vote-seeking bribes of US$40,000 (Dh147,000) in $100 bills - I know, so unimaginative - in Trinidad and Tobago. Fifa's ethics committee on Sunday suspended from all football activities the lofty mainstays Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner, and bin Hammam withdrew from a presidential election he had contested ardently so that the incumbent, the three-term president Sepp Blatter, will run against himself. Given Blatter's ample experience running against himself with ludicrous comments, he is expected to prevail.

Yesterday, however, came indications that Warner and bin Hammam found their suspensions sub-pleasurable.

In particular, Warner, a veteran of 28 years of the Fifa executive committee chafed openly. He had promised a "tsunami" of blowback if the hearing did not go his way, and his output yesterday rose at least to the level of surfable swell.

He presented a ticking e-mail from Jerome Valcke, whose title of "general secretary" goes to reiterate Fifa's knack for self-inflation.

In that e-mail from earlier this month, Valcke told Warner that in bin Hammam's run for president, the Qatari must have "thought you can buy Fifa as they bought the World Cup", a reference to Qatar's successful bid for 2022. So as of yesterday afternoon, of course, Qatar mulled legal action as Valcke labelled the e-mail "private", a statement by then earnest but demonstrably untrue.

Sufficient tempest for reform still seemed farfetched, but then, Warner added that, in early May, Blatter presented a gift of $1m to Concacaf, the continental federation that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, and which the Trinidadian Warner heads, at least until this past Sunday.

And with reform still farfetched, and with a Namibian judge having ruled the evidence already sufficient for suspension, bin Hammam announced his appeal of that decision, calling it "not compliant with any principles of justice" and stating, "I am punished before I am guilty".

As reform seemed slightly less farfetched, the well-regarded Michel Platini fretted to reporters that bin Hammam's suspension could trigger a walkout of Asian members. Warner used the phrase "kangaroo court" and promised more water.

Ranging back to the bribery charges against Warner and bin Hammam, there appeared Press Association photos of a brown envelope - a brown envelope! - showing crisp $100 bills that apparently were earmarked for the Bahamas Football Association.

The convulsions mounted through the day, some lawmakers began whinnying here and there, and Salt Lake City did start to seem vaguely visible.

That bygone case led to the expulsion of 10 IOC members, the sanctioning of 10 more and the toughening of the bidding rules, even if Salt Lake City did keep its Games, albeit with new honchos.

At Fifa yesterday, the headliners hardly seemed to care about the organisation as a whole, which in an odd turn might be good for the organisation as a whole, given its need for renovation, for fumigation, for the farfetched sight of a wrecking ball clearing the arrogance to lend a view of Salt Lake.