THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

3 June ~ This may not be a popular time to do so, but someone needs to put in a good word for FIFA. The debacle of the World Cup bidding process and Sepp Blatter's re-election have indeed been shocking, though surely not surprising to anyone who has followed the way the organisation works over the past decades. But there are at least three good reasons to temper justified anger with some humility, particularly from an English point of view. First, the alternative to the oligarchy created by Blatter and his predecessor, João Havelange, is not necessarily one with the "greater transparency and accountability" FA chairman David Bernstein and others have apparently always wanted (or at least since the World Cup decision).

Until Havelange ousted Sir Stanley Rous as president in 1974, FIFA was run by those now protesting loudest – as an old boys' club for white, western countries. Despite wandering in and out of FIFA on grounds of snobbery and amateurism until the Second World War, England supplied three of its first six presidents, who ruled for nearly half its first 70 years. So hidebound was it that in 1966 African and Asian countries boycotted the World Cup over the failure to open up qualification spots and Rous's pusillanimous attitude to Rhodesia and South Africa.

Today's fans may gag at FIFA's pious humbug of international fair play, "the football family" and "the good of the game", but it wasn't until the British and French were kicked out of its ruling councils that the world governing body at least took the "world" part of that title seriously. It may not have been for altruistic reasons – Havelange built his powerbase on those who felt rejected by Rous's paternalism – but it was the key moment that eventually allowed Africa, Asia, north America and Australasia to become serious players in world football.

Second, that globalisation has been a huge success. Expanding the World Cup from 16 countries to 32 (bitterly opposed by most of the British media at the time) has given countries from Togo to Trinidad a realistic stake in it. Broadly, taking the tournament to the US, Japan/Korea and South Africa has been a triumph – exactly the kind of progress a world governing body should be expected to make. Of course, a desirable outcome does not necessarily reflect an honourable process, which is why the current crisis was prompted by the choice of Qatar for 2022. Previously dubious dealings over World Cup hosts had delivered at least defensible results – this time both the process and the result were indefensible.

The argument that 2022 represents another geographical landmark for the World Cup is laughably inadequate when applied to Qatar, but the principle is right. And FIFA's progressive side is not limited to geographical spread. It has done commendable work to expand age-group tournaments (also much to the benefit of smaller and poorer countries) and the women's game. By all means, question the motives and the practices involved in those decisions, but at least acknowledge the facts. If there's a good reason to deplore this summer's women's World Cup and men's Under-20 World Cup I'd like to know what it is (apart from the fact that Jack Warner was involved in choosing the venue for the latter).

Third, calls for transparency and accountability tend to overlook the nature of FIFA's constituent parts. Most of the more than 200 nations it controls are neither democratic nor transparent. More to the point, it does not deal with governments, but with national football associations. If the FA believes it is so urgent for FIFA to reform itself, maybe it should look at the state of its own governance first. It may not be corrupt in the crude "$40,000 in an envelope" sense, but it is hardly a model of ethical or even competent administration. And if that is true of England, how much more so is it of associations in much smaller countries, operating in a much less open political environment.

Yes, we should hope and demand better from FIFA, but we should not expect it to be like Switzerland just because Blatter is Swiss. Like the UN, it has to balance the admirable ambition of allowing all countries access to the world stage with the reality that many bring questionable baggage with them. Needless to say, FIFA must challenge corruption rather than reinforcing it in the post-Blatter era (when that finally arrives). But if it does so, it should be able to trumpet its real achievements with slogans that even fans feeling sullied by recent events can get behind. Mike Ticher

Comments (13)
Comment by Barnstoneworth 2011-06-03 08:47:50

Lest we forget that the FA broke rank with the rest of UEFA in 1998 by supporting Blatter over Lennart Johanssen, simply because LJ supported Germany's bid for the 2006 finals. You reap what you sow.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2011-06-03 11:15:15

"Previously dubious dealings over World Cup hosts had delivered at least defensible results"

Does that include the original selection of Colombia as hosts for the 1986 tournament?

Comment by jameswba 2011-06-03 13:23:27

Good article, especially the points about the womens' and Under 20s' tournaments, but the sentence cited above by TEV troubles me somewhat. I find the selection of Russia difficult to defend as well ; basically a gangster state, large-scale abuses, clear links between fans of some clubs and racist causes etc. Add Qatar and a troubling pattern starts to emerge.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-06-05 02:57:50

What a cringeworthy article Mike. What will your next article be, "Mugabe isn't as bad as Hitler" perhaps? What you basically seem to be saying is that corruption, fraud and bribery on a massive scale is fine as it's better than when FIFA was a European old boys club. It's good to know that two wrongs finally make a right!

As for Africa, Asia, north America and Australasia becoming serious players in world football - that is one of the funniest (and most naive) things I've read in a long time.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-06-06 11:27:17

Firstly it is nice to see a different view point and one that has been hinted at to me by people not from Europe. In South America they take a very different view on FIFA and see England as whinging again, struggling to cope with not being the world power anymore.

But what I am really interested in is an expansion on this madmickyf "As for Africa, Asia, north America and Australasia becoming serious players in world football - that is one of the funniest (and most naive) things I've read in a long time"

Comment by Fastbyferracci 2011-06-06 14:40:54

"Expanding the World Cup from 16 countries to 32 (bitterly opposed by most of the British media at the time) has given countries from Togo to Trinidad a realistic stake in it."

Rubbish. Expanding the World Cup from 16 to 32 countries has resulted in a series of pathetic, cautious, mediocrity-dominated finals tournaments. 16-team 1990 was pretty abysmal, but the 1986, '82, '74 and '70 tournaments were the greatest adverts for the game world football has ever produced. 1978 wasn't, but we have Senhor Havelange's political convictions to thank for that. Whatever Rous's shortcomings, he at least didn't award the World Cup itself to apartheid South Africa.

Not sure your mention of Togo and Trinidad is very apt either, unless you were making an elaborate joke. Both teams threatened boycotts of the 2006 World Cup because of the withholding of payments by the corrupt national FAs that FIFA tolerate and encourage. In the Angola Cup of Nations, the utter venality of the Togolese FA had deadly consequences.

Sepp Blatter's FIFA is, perhaps, only the tip of the global sports-administration iceberg, a particularly foetid cherry on the top of an inevitable aspect of sports politics. If the English FA is one of the more principled and impartial ones, that demonstrates how universal the kind of attitude Blatter and Warner embodies really is. But if Rous was guilty of refusing to expel an internationally-recognised country from international competition (the proposal was for South Africa to contest World Cups with an alternatingly all-black and all-white side, certainly disgusting but I think that's more sporting compromise than sporting propaganda), Blatter has allowed FIFA to transform itself into a vast patronage regime whose deleterious effects on world football have become apparent. Qatar 2022 is only the biggest, most ridiculous (and least dangerous) of its jokes.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-06-07 05:55:24

Lincoln, what I meant by that comment was:

a) If Asia are serious players in world football how come they couldn't stop Bin Hammam being shafted by Blatter?
b) If North America are serious players in world football how come they couldn't get the 2022 World Cup over Oman?
c) If Africa are serious players in world football how come all their best players end up playing in European leagues?
d) As for Australasia, we know we are not serious players considering we only got one vote for our bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

It might be nice to see a different point of view but we still need to keep that view in perspective. Mike seems to be arguing that we shouldn't expect transparency and accountability from FIFA because the governments of many countries in FIFA don't have these either. By that argument we shouldn't complain if our own governments sink to the level of a North Korea or a Zimbabwe!

Comment by Lincoln 2011-06-07 09:19:37

A and b cancel each other out. "If North America are serious players in world football how come they couldn't get the 2022 World Cup over Oman?", because Asia got it. "If Asia are serious players in world football how come they couldn't stop Bin Hammam being shafted by Blatter?" Because Chuck Blazer from North America shopped him in.

My view is that he is saying that there are at least some positives and FIFA is not a black hole for football.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-06-08 05:38:49

Sorry Lincoln but I don't see how A&B cancel each other out. For that to be true you'd have to believe that Oman got the 2022 WC simply because they're part of Asia and not because they paid massive bribes and that Blazer wasn't acting under Blatter's instructions.

Would love to buy a pair of those rose-tinted specs you're wearing. Are they FIFA standard issue?

Comment by Lincoln 2011-06-08 09:21:07

Na bought em off Ebay, bloke was selling an pair with an England design after the world cup. They are good though, means I don't just see things as black and white.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-06-09 01:09:25

I'd say it's better to see things in black and white than be totally blind.

BTW those specs wil come in handy next season when you're playing Hayes & Yeading on a freezing tuesday night. Pop them on and you'll instantly believe you're sitting in the San Siro watching a Milan derby!

Comment by Lincoln 2011-06-09 10:06:19

Possibly, but that would mean being blind to the good that gets done as well.

Ouch. Hopefully I will have them when I go to Luton and I can think I am still watching a top flight team.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-06-10 02:16:18

"Hopefully I will have them when I go to Luton and I can think I am still watching a top flight team." In that case can you get a pair for me too, not that you've ever had to worry about the "top flight team" part at Sincil Bank!

We're looking forward to playing the Imps next season, hopefully it'll be a successful season for both clubs.

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