FIFA still a cavalcade of opaque intentions

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It came as a surprise to no one when former Spurs hirsute (Spursute?) sweetheart, now professional preener, David Ginola, called off his tilt at the FIFA presidency. His campaign, primarily backed by gambling company Paddy Power, ended a few precious, hilarious moments after it commenced, though that isn’t to say there weren’t some fantastic highlights. His call to arms fell desperately short; he asked the public to help raise £2.3 million and give him the fiscal might to topple the rein of Sepp Blatter. The people stopped giving at just over £6000. The statement posted a few days ago on the Team Ginola website was laced with a sort of deflated egotism;

“A huge thank you for supporting Team Ginola,” the statement read.

“The crowdfunding page is now closed. All donations will be returned to those that have pledged. The fight is not over. Football still needs to change. I urge you to continue to vocalise your craving for change in football in whatever way you can. Let it be known that no matter how small you think your voice may be alone, if we speak together we will be heard. Whilst FIFA may not be an open democracy for the footballing public, our opinions will be heeded, only if we persist.”

A failed stunt by a garish and fading football sex symbol (we know about the sex symbol part, Ginola tells us so in his stunningly vain autobiography, titled Le Magnifique). But what this farce has done, apart from provide a few bitter chuckles, is further cloud our view of what FIFA, and the things and people that revolve around it, actually mean to do. In the wake of Ginola’s abject failure, Luis Figo, former Real Madrid and Barcelona star, has come forward as an alternative, altogether more plausible, FIFA presidential candidate. The former World Player of the Year, whose campaign is backed by the required five international football federations (as well as the FA in his native Portugal), is looking increasingly more like a genuine rival to Blatter. But celebrity nominations, tinged as they always are with a sense of the sideshow, do little to provide compelling hope that the culture of venal shenanigans at FIFA will change. Will Figo, grinning spokesperson for men’s hair dye, really refresh one of the world’s most corrupt organisations? Forgive me if I temper my hope.

Another potential FIFA presidential candidate has ties that concern matters much closer to home. Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein has also emerged as a contender for the top job, and has secured public backing from the English FA.

“I want to make FIFA a first-class organisation that is worthy of a sport that unites billions of people around the globe and is rightly declared the world’s game.” Al-Hussein said in a statement. “FIFA should function to promote football and work in a real partnership to support all national associations in their mission to develop the game – we must get back to focusing on those goals.”

Al-Hussein is already a high-ranking FIFA official; he is the vice-president for the Asian Confederation, the confederation in which Australia has competed since being admitted in 2005 (although only since 2010 have we gone through qualification for a World Cup as an Asian country). Additionally, troubling reports have emerged in the last few days that quote Asian Confederation president, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, stating his knowledge of a growing agenda to reassess Australia as a viable Asian footballing nation. The quote, which Al-Khalifa has subsequently said is inaccurate, is muddied with sinister foreboding, as is consistent with FIFA’s general modus operandi. As the Roar’s Steve Larkin reported yesterday;

AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa was quoted by a Dubai-based newspaper as saying “Arabs are not the only ones” seeking Australia’s removal from the confederation. “There are indications that prove that such desire exists among the confederations of west Asia to evict Australia,” the Al-Ittihad newspaper reported. “But I also know that the Arabs are not the only ones who are not convinced the Australia’s membership in Asia’s football is feasible.”

“Feasible”. A curious word to use, indeed. Assuming the quote isn’t a fabricated bit of headline fodder (which is no small assumption), then the argument it puts forth holds precious little water. In 2005, when Australia’s switch from the Oceania Federation to Asia was confirmed, an article in The Age intimated that the migration was due to Australia’s unhelpful dominance in the region. Mike Collet reported that Sepp Blatter himself said of the switch:

“All the participants were happy with the move and this being the case, the executive committee approved it under the statutes. It did not need to wait for Congress,” he said.

Blatter added: “The Oceania delegates have thought for many years that Australia was too powerful and blocked the way of the other 11 countries.

“Now New Zealand, and the Pacific islands at least have a chance. They can go it alone, I am sure it will be a success.”

As Collet added in the 2005 article, the ridiculous 31-0 and 22-0 wins over American Samoa and Tonga respectively (thrashings handed out only a few years earlier) argued strongly in favour of the decision. By entering the Asian Confederation, Australia was improving the mean quality of football in the region, ramping up the competitiveness and challenging the stagnating duopoly of regional giants Japan and South Korea. With the Gulf states rising in prominence over the last few years as well, it seems that the footballing health of the region is currently cresting new summits. This year’s Asian Cup, inarguably a raucous success here in Australia, has also shown that battles between Asian nations are very much enthralling and unpredictable spectacles. Traditional forces can no longer assume a clear path to the final; the UAE’s remarkable triumph over Japan was evidence of that. Matches like the fabulous 3-3 draw between Iraq and Iran are single handedly worth the price of admission. Australia have lost already to their opponents in Saturday’s final, South Korea, and a gripping championship contest is expected. Ebullient competition is the hallmark here.

Of course, it’ve very easy to praise the increased level of competitiveness when it’s an Australian club holding the AFC Champions League trophy, and when both male and female national teams are competing for the regional championship. Grumblings from nations who have been on the sore end of these triumphs are, if nothing more than sour grapes, at least understandable. And so, amid FIFA’s wholly entrenched culture of shadiness and back-alley dealings, mentioning the existence of vague “desires” to evict Australia from Asia equates to a tangible fear of attack. FIFA’s thirst for ethical opacity has never been more acute, and with the denial of clarity comes the sweaty fever-dreams of conspiracy and lies.

One assumes that high ranking FIFA officials, as well as acting in their capacity as administrators of the various international confederations, also retain strong ties to football goings-on in their homelands. If we are speaking purely in terms of, say, chances for qualifying for international competitions, then it is firmly in the interests of countries (like President Al-Khalifa’s UAE) to seek to remove rivals from this equation. Australia’s eviction from Asia would directly result in an increased chance for the remaining nations to qualify for a future World Cup, this is clear (it was the very reason to remove Australia from Oceania in the first place). And because, as far as one can tell, the avenue for an eviction is via a simple vote among the Confederate members, the threat of potential expulsion is seemingly unhindered any vital stipulations. As we saw when Australia moved into Asia, Blatter didn’t even need to wait for the FIFA Congress to approve the change in 2005. It is in this unregulated context of competing agendas that treachery, bribery and sleaze can thrive. Certainly, past FIFA scandals show that it has done elsewhere.

Where does the dishonesty end and the truth begin? Who are the upstanding candidates and who are the charlatans? Behind whom are we to rally, or is it against whom? FIFA have assembled for themselves a Delphic haze of misdirection and chicanery under which to do their business, and there is no sign yet of it clearing.

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