1 June ~ Over the past few days, some journalists have succumbed to drawing comparisons between embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and FIFA president-for-life Sepp Blatter. Indeed, right now the removal of both men from their jobs would seem like the ideal outcome. But while a postponement of today's presidential election at the FIFA Congress – followed by independent investigations into its operations and a subsequent reform from top to bottom – would have seemed like a desirable and necessary move from the outside, most on the inside are no keener for change than a bird is to shit in its own nest.
Impatient as we may be to see a revolution by this afternoon at the latest, it would probably require a NATO air raid on Zürich to effect a rapid putsch at FIFA's gleaming HQ. That's frustrating for fans, campaigning journalists and those involved in the game who have long been lobbying for a desperately needed new direction at FIFA. But the parallel with Libya – comparing two undesirable rogues clinging on to power as the heads of dying, desperate regimes – leans towards flippant satire. Any fair comparison must also highlight the differences. Gaddafi is a murderous dictator who declared his willingness to annihilate without mercy those who have had the courage to resist him. Blatter is just a bullying, intellectually impoverished bureaucrat heading up a football organisation riddled with corruption and cronyism. Some parts of the world, in particular those who have recently lost out on a World Cup bid, have the right to be outraged by his unopposed re-election and continued survival. But for most other countries these are not priority concerns, and his crimes are in a different league to those of the Syrian and Yemeni governments, say, opening fire on crowds of peaceful protesters.
The Gadaffi-Blatter angle does, however, further besmirch the FIFA-held myth that football is the great unifier of mankind, which the FIFA president tried to propagate yet again in his characteristically feeble opening speech to the body's Congress on Tuesday. It is not, and it never will be. The world, as always, is pre-occupied with imminent and potentially catastrophic political, economic and environmental issues, so the fact that millions of people across several time zones occasionally watch the same games on TV does not mean they will live in peace. It's the simplistic Coca-Cola approach to international relations, which says that people in different countries drink our product, therefore all people are basically the same and can get on in perfect harmony. FIFA and Coke as they stand now are symbiotic parasites, because they both want the same thing out of football – money, and a clean public image – while selling us something they pretend is of indispensable significance.
Having said all that, FIFA's unaccountability and its low position on the global geo-political agenda do not mean it will remain immune to change. While sceptics scoff at the notion of FIFA ever getting around to self-reform, and governments with well-intentioned (but also grandstanding) MPs and MEPs remain largely impotent to instigating a revolt among the FIFA member associations, the current tragi-comical, in-fighting theatrics kicked off by the clown princes of Concacaf, Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner, do hold out the genuine possibility that FIFA will fold from within. A body rife with a rotting, disintegrating leadership, self-serving buffoons, cash-grabbing opportunists and complacent careerists can not function in perpetuity. That FIFA has been impervious to external pressure for so long is merely a testament to the gargantuan levels of self-interest among its payroll in keeping quiet and being strong-armed into doing what they're told.
So there is after all a pertinent parallel between FIFA and a failing, discredited regime like Libya's. When a pseudo-democratic institution fails to revolve its leaders and decision-makers through a fair and transparent process, then yes, years of fear and autocratic rule may keep a spurious peace, propped up by the dropping of favours or cash-filled brown envelopes into the right hands. But when quarrels break out in a body used to neither criticism nor self-examination, internal warfare is the quick result, and all that talk of a clean image and fair play is shown for what it is – vacuous sloganeering. When corporate sponsors sweat that they are no longer getting value, they turn the screw by demanding sacrifices, and only this speeds the downfall of individuals no longer useful within the feuding FIFA family.
FIFA's collapse in its current incarnation is therefore inevitable, be it today or in five or ten years. As we sit back and take a grim delight in the farcical running event that is the current FIFA Congress, football should be simultaneously concerned about what will succeed it, and who will step up to ensure that it becomes a stable, accountable umbrella body that genuinely serves the interests of the world game. But it's also worth remembering that it will still contain several dozen member countries whose governments murder, torture and oppress their own citizens. That is only acceptable within the context of football if we acknowledge football's limited role and importance. Because in the context of human history, football will at most be no more than a very curt foot note. Ian Plenderleith