It has been a few days now since FIFA’s considerably shocking decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia over, amongst others, England and a joint Spanish/Portuguese bid.
With the smoke clearing and the dust settling, what stands out most is the incredible arrogance FIFA is displaying in light of the overwhelming evidence against it in terms of serious corruption.
First off, the below is only going to tackle the 2018 World Cup in detail, don’t even get us started on 2022, which was awarded to Qatar. How FIFA came to the decision to award this hallowed tournament to a country that has serious questions to answer in terms of human rights abuses is a mystery (slavery, for example, is pretty much encouraged amongst the Qatari elite). Their decision is also mind boggling in that the main sponsor of the World Cup is an over rated alcoholic beverage, and yet in Qatar it is against the law to drink in public. I know, I am scratching my head too. Completely illogical. However, for now, we aren’t touching the whole Qatar question.
There is a huge amount of written material emanating from this horrible mess, however at its core it is a depressingly simple tale to tell. FIFA is incredibly corrupt, and Russia was able to key in on that in order to win the rights to host the World Cup in 2018.
There are a also myriad of interesting side notes. The English media reaction, the exposé of the complicated and completely flawed FIFA voting system, just how corrupt and racist Russia is and finally the disgusting waste of hundreds of millions of euros on the process.
To start, calling FIFA corrupt is like saying ‘Ireland currently has some financial issues’. FIFA may be the most relatively corrupt organisation known to man, in terms of size, number of members and levels of corruption.
It all starts from the top
Many in the UK in particular seem shocked at the sheer scale of corruption being revealed. However, alarm bells should have rung at an early stage of the whole assignment process. For example when FIFA demanded an exemption from a key element of UK money-laundering legislation as part of the government guarantees required in relation to the England 2018 bid. Um, did anybody notice this when the bid process started? Kind of a red flag, no?
According to an expert in sports administration, Mr. Mihir Bose, Sepp Blatter the vainglorious FIFA president, sees his organisation as; ‘’the Vatican of sport and himself as a head of state". He goes on to note that the professional staff in Zurich are competent and trustworthy;
"but it's the (executive)committee members that are the problem. They are treated like gods. They fly everywhere first class, stay in five-star hotels, receive $150,000 retainers just for attending meetings and $500 a day expenses. They live in another universe."Remember, that’s the executive committee members. The leaders of the pack. FIFA’s brightest and best. Where best to start than (almost) at the very top, FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. Warner is the subject of accusations that he ordered 2010 World Cup tickets costing $84,240 from the FIFA ticket office, but the deal subsequently fell through. He had previously been admonished by FIFA's ethics committee over ticket deals for the 2006 tournament and has faced a host of other allegations of impropriety. Ladies and gentlemen, your FIFA vice-president.
How about executive Committee member Amos Adamu – caught in the famous Panorama bribery sting four months after telling colleagues facing separate fraud charges how they should behave. "The public sees every football administrator as corrupt, and I cannot explain why it is so. We must always be transparent to prove them wrong!" Apparently Amos is good at giving advice, just not great at actually following it himself.
How about the hungriest man in world football, FIFA executive Vitaly Mutko. A couple of weeks ago Mutko launched into an angry tirade against the worlds media, saying; "No matter what we say we are portrayed by them as a hotbed of corruption. It is not true." Later that same week: Russian authorities launch a criminal investigation into alleged fraud at Mutko's ministry, including Mutko's own expenses claim for 97 breakfasts eaten during a 20-day trip to Vancouver. Total cost for 20 days breakfasts? $4,500. That’s a lot of sausages. Each night in his hotel was charged at $1,499. In total, Mutko is said to have spent twelve times his official limit
We are talking here about senior members of FIFA’s executive committee. Not some scrubs, toiling in the backwaters for pennies, people you may not completely resent scrounging out a few pennies. These fat, self serving, corrupt and incredibly arrogant bastards are globe trotting on massive expense accounts flying first class and spending $4,500 on breakfasts for a month.
What happens when anyone decides to try and blow the whistle on this disgraceful sham of a lifestyle being enjoyed by FIFA’s jet setting elite? Former FIFA secretary-general Michel Zen-Ruffinen tried to shed some light on the situation back in 2002, accusing Blatter of mismanagement. His position on the executive was terminated immediately. Big Sepp doesn’t take criticism lying down. In fact, he doesn’t take it at all.
One of the more comical by products of this ungainly mess is the incredible reaction coming from the self righteous, ‘patriotic’ British media ‘right’. Most of the bitter, angry reaction has been railing against the BBC show Panorama and its exposure of FIFA corruption. Surely such investigation was worthy of a pat on the back and a gold star, right? Wrong. The Sun, that paper of such repute, wrote an open letter to Big Sepp on the eve of the voting, a sniveling, swarthy little ditty, attacking Panorama's "sabotage" of England's bid. "Today The Sun makes this plea to Mr Blatter and FIFA: don't be put off by the BBC's rehashing of ancient history. Despite BBC muckraking, The Sun trusts FIFA to put football first."
The beautiful, hilarious irony? The Sun’s headline the day after the big vote; “FIXED! FIFA BUNGS RUSSIA THE WORLD CUP … Calls for corruption probe …" – it would be astronomically hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic.
Not to be outdone, the Daily Mail had its own theory as to why the English bid failed. Now this gets really nasty. The Mail says the film shown during England's bid presentation in Zurich was "un-English", too "multi-cultural" and relied too heavily on "a range of ethnically diverse figures". The comments section for the same article was a cess-pit of good old fashioned right wing reactionary racism.
- "It makes me sick when we have this 'multicultural' rubbish rubbed in our faces"
- "This country is dying"
- "You couldn't make it up, we Brits have to put up with this nonsense every day"
- "Fools! Multi cultural idiots!!!"
- "Well done Daily Mail for having the courage to speak up"
- "If only Diana were here to see what this nation has become."
Comments like those serve to remind us all that yes, we did originate from apes. Apparently in some cases we haven’t come very far since.
The carpet-bombing like media coverage served to expose even the most minute details of the voting system. The over-riding question that remained was, how can a system that promotes corruption, huge financial waste, international fighting and a very dubious result be called a success? FIFA themselves don’t seem to believe in the system. The whole event hinged on the concept of a two-event, anonymous vote. One vote for the 2018 tournament with solely European bidders, the other for 2022 for the rest of the world. Amazingly, Sepp Blatter commented pre-vote that, in regards the setup they came up with, "You cannot avoid collusion."
Perhaps FIFA decided that since they couldn’t avoid it, they may as well encourage it.
Presumably the voting system had an upstanding, independent arbiter, right? This task fell to KPMG who acted as an independent "observer" to guarantee the validity and indeed honesty of the vote. The only problem there is FIFA paid KPMG $23 million last year for unspecified "other operating expenses". Arthur Anderson, anyone?
Just who benefited from all of this? The Russians, naturally. Before the actual bid process began, Alexei Sorokin, the Russian bid leader came out with some very aggressive comments about one of their main rivals, the UK. He said, and we quote; "We do not enter into squabbles, although we have much to say. It's no secret, for example, that in London they have the highest crime rate compared with other European cities, and the highest level of alcohol consumption among young people." (Hilarious side note, Russia’s apology after the fact; "Mr Sorokin regrets if his statements have led to such an erroneous interpretation and understanding." – feel better now, England?!)
Just a slight hint of irony here, as Russia calling out England on socio-economic issues is something akin to Mussolini chastising Hitler for being ‘a little right wing.’
Have you been paying attention to any of the astonishing Wikileak cables? How about the one regarding Russia, where it described it as "a rampantly corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy" run by a leader who has "amassed a massive secret fortune" by running a "mafia state" based on "personal enrichment, protection for gangsters, extortion and kickbacks, suitcases full of money, a parallel tax system and bribery estimated at $300bn a year".
Sounds not only like a wonderful holiday destination, but also the perfect place to hold the biggest and greatest tournament in the history of the World, no?
Not convinced? Well if Russia can’t lure you with its toxic levels of corruption, how about its views on minorities?
The main centers for the games in 2018 will be Moscow and St Petersburg, where Dick Advocaat, the former Zenit manager, confessed he was too scared to sign a black footballer in case the player was rejected and abused by the crowd. UEFA official, Rafal Pankowski, who monitors racist activity at Russian football matches warns that Russia has ignored a surge in race-related incidents around the sport.
"Nazi slogans are common in many Russian stadiums. Matches are often interrupted with racist chants aimed at black players. I have been in Moscow this week and seen it for myself. There is racist graffiti in the streets. Major bookshops openly sell racist literature. The hate-crime rate is high. Black people are often beaten up by skinhead gangs"Rafal’s comments are founded in fact; Russia has some of the highest hate crime figures in the world. Statistics from the UN monitoring centre show that 80 people were murdered last year and another 411 wounded. Most of these attacks were racist incidents. They even admit it themselves. More than 150 far-right groups with an ideology of racial, ethnic and religious intolerance are currently active in Russia, according to the Russian interior ministry.
One Russian nationalist was sentenced to life in prison in October for committing 15 racist murders. Vassily Krivets, 22, and an accomplice had organised a group in 2007 to commit racist murders in Moscow and its suburbs.
For a very current, and very real description of just how vile and how embedded Russian racism is, we need look no further than current West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie, now banging in goals in the premiership. Peter made the mistake of leaving Russia for England recently, and was treated to a massive banana banner in his last match pre departure. Russian sports agent Vladimir Abramov helpfully explained why this happened;
"Peter is a professional, but that's in contrast to other Nigerians. They are very insolent, headstrong, and black nationalism is evident in them. When there are more than three Nigerians, watch out: they aren't afraid of anyone."
Super, just what you want to hear from those active in the Russian football scene.
Some other highlights from the same interview with Abromov, one of the biggest football agents in Russia;
• An influx of Nigerians in a city means "drugs, and ultimately Aids".
• "The French national team, in which black players play, has no relationship whatsoever to Europe".
• "Teams shouldn't have more than one dark-skinned footballer. When there's more than one they are aggressive."
• Plus: "Look, I am very respectful towards blacks: among them are very good people with whom I have made friends. But Russia isn't ready for them ... That's the way it is."
Thankfully of course, there is no such thing as racism in FIFA. How about FIFA executive committee member Julio Grondona, who said: "I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at that level [Argentinian first division] because it's hard work and, you know, Jews don't like hard work." Grondona didn't lose his position. In fact, he was promoted to senior vice-president of FIFA.
I guess we should be happy Vassily Krivets actually went to jail. FIFA probably would have promoted him.
Finally, money. Five countries, or five combinations of countries made bids to host the 2018 World Cup. Each country spent about $25 million putting their bids to FIFA. Probably about $35 million in Russia’s case, if you add in the bribes. England spent their $25 million on salaries for the bid staff, the bid book itself actually cost $3 million to put together, inspection preparations and substantial travel and accommodation costs took care of the rest. We can only assume the bid book was cast in a cover of pure gold, and made coffee for you while you read it. Not that instant crap either, fancy Columbian coffee.
You could estimate approximately $125 million was spent simply bidding for the chance to host the 2018 World Cup. Simply unbelievable. What a gargantuan waste of cash on bidding for the right to host the biggest tournament in ‘the working mans game’.
The answer? Rip it all up and start again. FIFA itself? No, no point tackling that, but you could start small and meaningful, by tearing down the insane voting process for assigning future World Cups, and putting something superior in place. Given a blank canvas, you could paint any kind of imaginative, fair and useful picture. Why not structure it all around youth football in impoverished nations? Whoever comes up with the best plan to create a self sustaining and successful soccer program in an impoverished location gets the tournament. Pour all that wasted money, time and effort into youth football.
Barcelona are not just a wonderful team for the beautiful football they play, while most other clubs carry swarthy commercial logos on their jerseys, Barcelona proudly carry the UNICEF slogan, and give all proceeds from team jersey sales to the children’s organisation.
FIFA could learn so much from the greatest single club within its own organisation.
Will any initiative like the above ever take over from the current, corrupt and unsustainable model? Not a chance. If I was a FIFA executive and I had made a suggestion like the above, I would have already been kicked out the door, with nothing to show for my efforts bar Big Sepp’s size tens imprinted in my backside.