Media covering the FIFA crisis throws up the same simple, wrong answers time and again. What’s needed is harder, but reflects the real beauty of the game.
Here are three things that won’t solve the crisis on their own.
- FIFA’s sponsors. Do we actually need to write this? Yes, it’s vaguely engrossing to see which of the multinationals that have pegged their fortunes to FIFA will jump ship first. And yes, some of them aren’t in as deep as others Nike. But we’re talking about a self-selecting group that have long decided their interests are best served by beating their immediate rivals to the exposure of international football, some of whom may have crossed lines in doing so. So let’s be realistic about their commitment to progress, eh?
- Removing Sepp Blatter. Clearly an odious man, and to have risen to the top of this particular pile raises clear questions over all sorts of issues – but fundamentally, the issue is not about Blatter. It’s about the amount of money sloshing around behind closed doors, and the failure to make it transparent or accountable to the fans who are ultimately the providers of that money. Getting rid of Blatter won’t hurt, but it also won’t fix anything on its own. Effort should be directed at the systemic change that’s needed.
- UEFA. Make no mistake, there is a reason that the US indictment identifies UEFA (along with all the other regional groupings) as part of an enterprise in which corruption is endemic. No exceptions. And UEFA have long since passed up the change to promote a manifesto of genuine financial transparency and political accountability, either internally or at FIFA. So let nobody, including the Great British press, kid themselves on that football authorities in these countries are completely transparent, accountable and without taint; or poised to lead a revolution. The one-eyed man may become king in the land of the blind, but on balance it would be far preferable to provide clear sight for all and then see who rises to the top.
And that there would be the one thing that might lead to real progress: a step change in the extent of financial transparency at each level of the game, to ensure public accountability to those who eventually pay the bills, the fans.
Just as clubs should be transparent about their finances, offshore or otherwise, and transfers and football betting need to be opened up to the disinfectant of sunlight, so too do the affairs of football authorities – from the national level upwards.
Like paying tax, participating in football is ultimately a social act. Parents don’t take their kids to games, or run Sunday leagues, because someone makes it worth their while. Nobody ever asked for their ashes to be scattered at their home ground for reasons of cold, economic rationality.
We play the game, in whatever way that means for each of us, because it’s ours. And because ultimately we think everyone else is doing the same, and doing it (more or less) honestly. If those at the top continue to suck out what they can, under cover of financial opacity; and those in the middle follow suit, because hey, everyone’s doing it; then those at the bottom will, eventually, say: Sod this for a game of soldiers.
And it’s those at the bottom who hold the entire business together.
Those at the top – and those who are eyeing the top from a safe distance from the Feds – would do well to remember that.
Solving a crisis as dark as FIFA will need some pretty damn powerful sunlight.