x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Can we just clear the decks?

Many who do care about football have started opining: If only we could clear the decks of the whole lot of them ...

It should spend the day rigorously hearing the juicy allegations and the melodramatic defences in Zurich, and then it should trumpet the news: Fifa is a joke.

This would achieve both succinctness - takes only four words - and a fine self-awareness.

The "joke" identity, long suspected in bits and pieces and even giant chunks, congealed yesterday. Fifa-watching, that delicious but dreary sideshow that keeps shoving the grubby real world onto sport, depriving us of our pretence that sport qualifies as some sort of distraction from the grubby real world, reached either its hilt or its nadir.

Untangle this: Mohamed bin Hammam, the Fifa presidential candidate awaiting a fresh ethics hearing on bribery charges come tomorrow, saw to it that the other candidate, the incumbent Joseph S. Blatter, also should face an ethics hearing, also tomorrow, allegedly because Blatter knew of, but did not report, the alleged allegations that hound bin Hammam, which bin Hammam assures are untrue.

This not only hints that bin Hammam accused Blatter of not reporting something that bin Hammam said did not happen, which itself mandates at least a small nap, but it provided to novice Fifa-watchers possibly the most shocking revelation of the gruesome year.

It revealed that Fifa has a rule dictating that Fifa people who know of alleged wrongdoing violate the rules when they do not report the alleged wrongdoing.


And then, reportedly, bin Hammam arrived in Zurich and attended a meeting of the finance committee. Now normally, the sight of older men in suits-and-ties around sport promises trouble and tedium.

It can hint at a numbing case such as the ongoing dispute between owners and players in the National Football League.

It tends to show us somebody with undue self-importance prone to huffiness when his hotel suite fails to outshine that of somebody else's up the hall.

With Fifa by now, though, the sight of these beautifully dressed men cramming their ways into the news has become a must-look because, at heart, we all like a good joke. It helps us through the days. Not even Barcelona-Manchester United with all its promises of significance might trump that hearing in Zurich with all its peeks at extreme human frailty.

In all the calls for transparency in Fifa, here the American executive committee member Chuck Blazer has provided some with his revelations about bin Hammam and Jack Warner, and bravo to Blazer for it, as so few of us can resist the image of cash furtively exchanging hands in spare rooms, be they in the Caribbean or elsewhere.

If only this fascination could tilt behaviour in general, to the appropriate point at which, rather than giving these types the reverence that has added to their absurdity, people pointed at them and laughed. If only overwhelmed hotel concierges could give them the rooms they deserve, perhaps the makeshift one with the cot and the shelves of cleaning supplies.

Or, as many who do care about football began opining yesterday afternoon: If only we could clear the decks of the whole lot of them ... That, of course, besides its impossibility, might trade in one set of issues for another. But if ever there were a time to trade in one set of issues for another, it could be that time when the metre uniformly tilts all the way to "joke."

After all, a rational fan could observe this spectacle and, while entertained by all the mud, wonder aloud: Can't they promote somebody who actually cares about football? I don't know, Platini? Beckenbauer?

They are likely to keep somebody, Blatter, who yesterday forged into our gentle, global internet with the following passage in his column:

"When a Swiss farmer's neighbour has a cow while he has none, the less-fortunate farmer will work twice as hard so that one day he can buy a cow as well. When another farmer, elsewhere, on an island, say, has no cow but his neighbour does, that farmer will kill the neighbour's cow out of sheer malice. I'd rather be a Swiss farmer, like it or not."

While the average fan probably wants to jettison the farmers, the cows and the entire island, wherever it is, that bit somehow called to mind all the chatter last winter about Blatter craving a Nobel Prize for taking the game to frontiers such as Russia and Qatar.

While I still back that ethic, I think of that chatter anew, having never realised Nobel even had a prize for farces.