x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Some tips for tarnished Fifa

Why not just sell the World Cup to the highest bidder and reduce the chances of bribery and corruption?

Jack Warner was involved in scalping World Cup tickets and is still a Fifa vice president.
Jack Warner was involved in scalping World Cup tickets and is still a Fifa vice president.

How shocked were you by the allegations of bribery in the bidding process to host the 2018 Fifa World Cup?

Personally, I heard the news while walking through the woods, and was so dumbfounded that I stepped in a steaming pile of bear poop. Goodness knows how that got there.

My world has not been so seismically rocked since the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics scandal. A secret voting system for multi-billion-dirham-spinning jamboree open to abuse? Shocker. Who would have thought it?

The allegations first emerged last weekend, courtesy of some excellent undercover journalism by a British newspaper. They were damaging but relatively minor: a Nigerian member of Fifa's executive committee was secretly filmed requesting £500,000 (Dh2.88million) to build four football pitches, while another delegate wanted £1.5m to fund a sports academy in New Zealand.

Both men have been suspended while Fifa, which claims to have "zero tolerance of any breach of ethics", launches one of its "investigations". This is the same Fifa which continues to employ Jack Warner as vice-president despite his involvement in scalping tickets for the 2006 World Cup, so you'll forgive me if I suspect their investigations are about as probing as a celebrity interview in an in-flight magazine. Such things can be swept under the carpet.

Yesterday, however, the allegations became far more damaging. When Michel Zen-Ruffinen, the former right-hand man of the Fifa president Sepp Blatter, is filmed describing one executive committee member as "the biggest gangster you will find on Earth", and suggesting another's vote can be bought with prostitutes, the issue becomes harder to ignore.

If the suspected whiff of corruption was Fifa's "elephant in the room", then this one just stood up on its hind legs and started parping Abba's Money, Money, Money through its trunk.

So what can Fifa do to cleanse its tarnished image? There are two options.

One is to supply every member of Fifa's executive committee with a luxury sauna, and advise them to use it for any conversations regarding World Cup bids. It is very hard for journalists to hide cameras when they are naked. Even if they could - the mind boggles - the steam will fog the lens.

The other solution is to scrap the current system and simply sell the right to host a World Cup. Whichever country offers Fifa the largest cheque gets the World Cup, providing they have the necessary infrastructure or a proven ability to build it.

If Fifa still wants to move it around the globe, then only allow bids from certain geographical regions each time: from Europe in 2018, the Middle East and Asia in 2022, the Americas in 2026, etc.

And, if Fifa insists on propagating the myth that poorer countries benefit from hosting World Cups (ask a South African what they think about that one), they could bracket countries by wealth and allow bids from either the top, middle or bottom tier, in rotation.

Fifa could then distribute the cash for worthwhile projects, such as football pitches in Nigeria and sports academies in New Zealand, which both sound like splendid ideas. But not for stuffing the offshore bank accounts of "gangsters" or the provision of hookers.

Secret votes will always be open to corruption, or the suspicion of it. If we cannot remove cash bribes from the equation, we should at least put them on the table for everyone to see.