FIFA reform the only way forward
Saturday's Champions League final represented football played at its very apex, with Barcelona showing off the sheer bloody joy of the world's favourite game. The next day, as he faced the world's press following an ethics committee that had all but handed him power for another four years, Sepp Blatter invoked the events of Wembley as being a triumph for FIFA. To draw a line of connection from Barcelona's unearthly display to a collection of in-fighting, overgrown Rotary Club members with a growing charge-sheet of corruption against them represented a very sour note.
"For The Good Of The Game," is its motto, let us remember, yet few of FIFA's recent activities register as much to do with either the game or anything good either. At one point last week, Chuck Blazer's revelations about corruption, and a series of released correspondence corroborations, seemed likely to pull FIFA apart. That such a collapse was being willed on by so many reveals just how far removed FIFA has become from the sport it claims to represent.
Yet by Wednesday, FIFA looks to have stared down its greatest crisis yet, for the moment at least. Having been successful in fighting off a delay of the one-man election that will sweep him to power in the manner of the world's finest gunboat republic dictators, Sepp Blatter offered a series of nautical images to describe how he, as 'the captain of the ship' would steer FIFA and the nebulous concept of 'fairplay' from choppy waters - no doubt into a utopian world in which football shall heal the sick, and replenish the poor.
It is difficult to be anything but cynical and mocking when describing a man who, on Sunday, was annotated during his press conference by these eyes as being arrogant, obstructive, deliberately obtuse, self-serving, defensive and rude. And all at once too. Yet the Sepp show rumbles on, with only a small amount of power ceded to the 208 member associations with whom his power lies.
FIFA had reached this precipice on account of the activities of its 24-man executive committee, nine of whom, at last count, are under suspicion of impropriety, and its handling of the awarding of hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Blatter has now pledged to hand such decisions to every member nation. It is suspected that, as with the International Olympic Committee and its reform after the exposure of the corruption that swung the awarding of the Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City in 2002, a greater numbers of voters mean less of an ability to corrupt. We shall see, but change had to be seen to be effected. Not even Blatter and his cronies could try to continue business as usual, though there can be little doubt that their instinct was to do just that.
"The executive committee will create a shortlist - but will make no recommendations only a list," must ring alarm bells that such a sullied group will maintain a significant sphere of influence on the World Cup bidding process.
In the meantime, the accused need to be seen to be treated via a proper judicial process, and not by the type of summary justice that a Namibian judge handed out on Sunday after an investigation that had lasted all of two days.
Jack Warner's malign presence, still influential despite a supposed suspension, has cast too much of a shadow on the events of the last few days. The sheer hubris of South American Confederation president Nicolas Leoz's adviser asking to have the FA Cup, the world's oldest competition, named after his boss shows off the incredible self-importance that this core group possesses amidst its ranks. Blatter, the survivor, to whom not enough mud has yet stuck despite 13 years overseeing this group of freeloaders and double-dealers, looks to be attempting to distance himself from them with his proposed reforms.
Change cannot happen quickly enough. Yet, for this to have an effect, we have to wait until the bidding for 2026 is decided, in either 2019 or 2020, and that allows Blatter and his successor (putatively Michel Platini) either the time to reform, or the ability to carry on regardless.
Platini is a man whose public pronouncements show off a fervent distaste for the idea of video evidence having any part in football, which hardly sets him out as the great reformer. The UEFA chief is not rocking the boat for now, as he expects to be crowned in 2015. Four more years of Blatter, now himself 75 years of age, beckon unless he can be brought down by other means.
Even if it does not bring revolution, this latest scandal has opened FIFA up to a greater scrutiny that is to be welcomed. A method of defence among those with something to hide has been to accuse the English media of sour grapes for their stepping up of FIFA investigations after the resounding defeat England's 2018 bid received. If that is so, then they can hardly be said to have nothing to go off. And if it took a national embarrassment as a trigger to uncover the rot at the core of FIFA then perhaps it will prove no bad thing for world football as a whole.
FIFA's senior vice-president, Julio Grondona, a man who so tastefully chose to invoke the Falklands War in his dealings with the England bid, spoke of the English press being "more busy lying than telling the truth". Such an accusation is very easily deflected back towards him and his acolytes. If FIFA is to ever truly be for the good of the game, then sweeping reform and the removal of the guilty are the only options. And that sentiment is surely as unarguable as the footballing class of Barcelona.