Is FIFA Being Run By Dinosaurs?
The way Joseph S Blatter bulldozed his way to get re-elected for the fourth successive term of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) reminded sports buffs of former President of Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Suresh Kalmadi. Blatter was re-elected after his Qatari opponent Mohamed Bin Hammam withdrew from the race amid cash-for-votes allegations. Kalmadi was also elected unopposed for his fourth successive term in 2008.
There are several other uncanny similarities between Blatter and Kalmadi. Both love power and are loathe to any criticism and cannot tolerate any challenge to their authority. Blatter and Kalmadi are from middleclass backgrounds but once in power, they learnt the tricks of the trade very quickly. Both promised lot to promote sports but as time went by, they were consumed with the obsession of retaining the power at any cost. Kalmadi’s luck ran out after helping him to lord over the destiny of the Indian sports for over 15 years while Blatter‘s is still holding on. Both are facing corruption charges and while Lok Sabha member from Pune was finally caught and now is behind bars, Blatter has managed to ward off the threat to his position for the time being. Kalmadi and Blatter are epitome of what is wrong with the world of sports. Their lust for power and positions and refusal to give them up show the rot that has set in the sports administration all over the world.
It is an interesting fact that most of the sports officials world over don’t command any respect amongst the sportspersons. When Kalmadi was sacked from the post of Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, there was widespread jubilation amongst the sportspersons. Though the action was taken much after the Games were over, the fact that IOA boss was humiliated was enough reason to celebrate. On the other hand Blatter’s re-election has brought in some very sharp and derogatory reactions from footballers. The most telling reaction came from legendary Diego Maradona who described FIFA bosses ‘dinosaurs’. According to him the world football body was run by men who did not understand the game and were intent on clinging to power. The Argentine great, who coached his country to the quarter-finals of last year’s World Cup in South Africa contemptuously dismissed unopposed re-election of 75-year-old Sepp Blatter as FIFA president for another four years, saying: “Everything will be the same…FIFA is a big museum and they are dinosaurs who do not want to give up power.”
Blatter has been president of FIFA since 1998 and will now continue until 2015. His unopposed election was marred by allegations of corruption and his arbitrary way of functioning, with the English and Scottish Football Associations wanting to defer the election. They failed in their move as they were supported by only 17 member associations. Blatter received 186 of the 203 votes cast. Each member association, regardless of its size, has one vote at FIFA’s congress, which elects the president. The other 23 members of the executive committee that runs the organisation are chosen by the regional confederations. “I thank you for your trust and confidence from the bottom of my heart,” said Blatter, after his victory at FIFA head quarters in Zurich. He asserted that massive victory had given him “the instruments needed to restart the credibility of FIFA”.
Commenting on the election BBC sports editor David Bond said: “England have once again been marginalised on FIFA’s world stage. After making his lone appeal to postpone the re-election of Sepp Blatter, FA chairman David Bernstein could only watch as, one by one, delegates from the rest of the world took it in turn to attack the FA’s last-minute move.” Bernstein sought the delay to allow time for an additional candidate or candidates to stand and compete in an open and fair election.
Blatter proved to be better tactician then his rivals and like all clever politicians he was able to create a divide within the FIFA. Same tactics Kalmadi used to adopt in the IOA election.
The FIFA president managed to put England Football Association against most of the African, Asian and Latin American countries by conceding that the decision to have the bidding processes for two World Cups at the same time had been a mistake and then used the trump card saying that in future all the 208 congress delegates will vote World Cups venues, rather than the 24-man executive committee making the decision.
Blatter was unopposed because his rival Mohamed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Federation, pulled out after being suspended over bribery allegations. Bin Hammam, along with ConCACAF president Jack Warner, was provisionally suspended by FIFA’s ethics committee over allegations that financial incentives were offered to Caribbean Football Union (CFU) members.
Blatter’s African supporters were more forthcoming. “We are at unease with people who wield unfounded accusations he, who accuses must provide evidence,” said Selemani Omari, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s football federation. “FIFA belongs to 208 national associations and not to one association; we must not seek solutions through the media or a Parliament in any third country,” said FIFA senior vice-president Julio Grondona, also president of the Argentina FA, delivered a stinging riposte to his English counterparts.
CHANGES MADE IN THE GAME UNDER BLATTER RULE
The silver goal replaced the golden goal rule in extra time of play-off matches. Under the golden goal rule, the match ends immediately if one side scores in extra time. The silver goal rule states that the match will end at the half-time period in extra time if one team is leading – otherwise the match will continue until the end of the extra time period. Some fans believe that this rule change makes the game less exciting, while others felt that the game is fairer as a result. The new rule was first applied in the Euro 2004 competition, but it has since been discontinued along with golden goal. All competitions have now reverted to the traditional extra time rules, i.e. they must play the full amount of extra time, no matter what the score is.
Since the 2002 World Cup, the current World Cup champion no longer automatically qualifies for the next World Cup finals, as was the case for the champions of all 16 previous World Cups.
National associations must now enforce immediate suspensions of all players sent off during a game, even if television replays offer compelling evidence of a player’s innocence. In particular, he insists that a referee’s judgments must be seen as final and that mistakes are part of the game.
The FA, however, has refused to follow this directive, and allows appeals against straight red cards (though not those resulting from two yellows).
In 2004, the game implemented the booking of players who remove their shirts after scoring a goal, as well as those who are guilty of ‘over-zealous celebrations’. The rationale for this rule change is that football is a global sport, and thus the sensibilities of conservative nations and spectators must be respected.
In 2007, it was decided that no football matches will be played above 2500 metres (8200 ft) above sea level.
However in June same year this was revised to 3000 metres (9840 feet). The move had consequences for the Bolivia whose stadium (Estadio Hernando Siles) is located more than 3000 metres above sea level.
However England’s football boss was in no mood to relent. “After hearing the speech from Sepp Blatter, we believe the calls we have made for greater transparency and better governance have been worthwhile,” said Bernstein. British Prime Minister David Cameron also jumped in to support his country’s association and its stand by describing FIFA election as a farce and said the standing of world soccer’s governing body had never sunk so low.
The bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were mired by allegations of corruption with two members of FIFA’s executive committee suspended after accusations they wanted money for votes. Russia won the 2018 hosting rights and the 2022 tournament went to Qatar, which has denied newspapers allegations that they “bought” the World Cup. Blatter however pretended to be unfazed by all these allegations of corruption asserting that he was determined to guide the organisation out of its current troubles.
Though Blatter seemed to have weathered the storm for the time being, he will have tough time to convince the major sponsors who expressed their grave concern over the damage being done by these allegations. He still refuses to accept that FIFA is facing crisis. To a question that corruption allegations meant that the governing body of the world’s most popular game was in crisis, his reply stunned every body, “What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis. We have just seen a beautiful Champions League final with Barcelona, with fair play. We are only in some difficulties and they will be solved inside our family.”
Earlier under Mr Blatter’s predecessor, João Havelange, a wheeler-dealing
Brazilian, FIFA became a mechanism for using revenues from the World Cup, the biggest sporting event on earth, to sustain a global network of patronage. Blatter has raised the system as FIFA’s revenues from broadcasting and marketing rights which have multiplied to more than $4 billion over a four-year cycle. In the four years up to 2010, after its contribution to the costs of the World Cup in South Africa, FIFA made a profit of $631 million and kept a handsome $707 million for its own operating expenses, while dispensing $794 million to its 208 grateful member football associations, many of them poor and dependent on FIFA’s largesse.
In such circumstances few in what Blatter refers to as the “football family” have any interest in challenging the status quo. It was only due to some investigating journalists, a deep culture of corruption within FIFA has been exposed. Last year two members of the executive committee were suspended for soliciting bribes from undercover reporters. This year, following the vote to give Russia the 2018 World Cup and the decision to host 2022 in extremely rich Qatar, the allegations have mounted.
However Blatter insisted that he will reform the organisation but it looks improbable. Among the member football associations, England is pushing for change, but it has few friends. If the governments of the big European countries were to demand external regulation of FIFA’s activities, it might have some impact. But Michel Platini, the French former footballer who leads UEFA, FIFA’s European affiliate, is in line to succeed Mr Blatter and does not want to rock the boat.
That leaves two groups of people who could bring about change. Swiss parliamentarians could end the Zurich-based organisation’s favourable tax treatment. They should do so unless it cleans itself up. Then there are the commercial sponsors, who pay a big chunk of FIFA’s bills. They have shown courage before: after the Salt Lake City bidding scandal, the sponsors forced the International Olympic Committee to become more transparent.
Will they do so again this time to keep Blatter under check only time will tell but
surely world Football deserves better?
BY Harpal Singh Bedi