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Monday, June 01, 2015 

Corruption, Fifa and humbug.

When it comes down to it, there's nothing that warms my cold, cynical heart as much as some good old fashioned humbuggery.  Watching the Eurovision song contest a couple of Saturdays ago, the crowd had the temerity to boo as a summary of the points was given, Russia at that time being in the lead.  I don't recall exactly what one of the presenters said, but it was along the lines of please don't bring politics into this especially when this year's theme is "building bridges".  Eurovision is of course as much about politics as it is a festival of camp and instantly forgettable songs, hence the only people you can ever remember winning it are Abba, Bucks Fizz, Dana International, Lordi and last year's sensation, Conchita Wurst.  Every year the same countries vote for each other, and every year the same people get slightly pissy about how manifestly corrupt the whole thing is, then the next day they forget and the experience repeats when May rolls round again.

We must then discuss the unfortunate problems at Fifa.  Good lord did the media spend the back end of last week in a state of incredibly amusing hysteria at the brassneck of Sepp Blatter, the old rogue refusing to stand down despite the rest of the board being under suspension, arrest or having already pleaded guilty to being only slightly less crooked than Robert Maxwell.  He didn't stand down because he knew he had the support of enough delegates to hang on, at least for now: as Vivek Chaudhary goes against the grain in the Graun to point out, Blatter has legitimately helped enough confederations in both Africa and Asia to outvote the majority of European and Latin American countries that have now turned against him.  Yes, there probably still is an element of graft in some of those dealings, but no one's managed as yet to find a trail of evidence leading back to Blatter himself, despite as it appears the best efforts of the Americans.

The obvious clich√© everyone reaches for in these circumstances is Casablanca, as so many find themselves, shocked, shocked, that there could possibly be corruption at play in the handing out of hosting rights to tournaments and multi-billion dollar marketing and advertising schemes.  Oh, the newly appointed US attorney general Loretta Lynch wailed, the kickbacks have "profoundly harmed a multitude of victims", not just the fans, but the "youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold".  And you think, I'm sorry, when did youth leagues and developing countries benefit from any sporting extravaganza ever without something being wanted in return?  It just doesn't happen, regardless of whether cash-stuffed brown envelopes are handed out or if less obvious if-you-scratch-my-back arrangements are the order of the day.  The biggest legacy from the London Olympics is going to be that fucking shopping mall and West Ham getting the stadium practically gratis, which is very nice indeed for those captains of industry Gold, Sullivan and Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge.

Blatter's great mistake has been in not respecting Europe and especially England as the footballing superpowers they so clearly are.  Letting Germany host in 2006 simply wasn't enough; few begrudged Japan and South Korea hosting in 2002, or the World Cup going to Africa in 2010, nor Brazil in 2014, despite it becoming ever clearer that the latter two were as reliant on bungs as the subsequent awards have been.  Had Fifa been cleverer, they would have let our good selves host in 2018, rather than the visibly corrupt Russians.  Our bid was unbelievably parochial and self-obsessed, yet it would have meant we could indulge in some good ol' football's coming home feel good crap instead of bitterly looking for excuses for why the damn Russians got it instead.  Going a step further and choosing Qatar was just asking for it.  It's one thing trying, as Sepp Blatter has always attempted, to push football beyond its heartlands of Europe and Latin America, and another to hand it to a country that gives kleptocracy a bad name.  A country so tiny and has such extreme weather conditions that hundreds of enslaved workers drop dead in the process of building the stadia.  Yes, this is going to be an incredible success, I can just feel it.

More ludicrous still however has been the reaction of politicians and the media, both of which know corruption, nepotism, patronage and abuses of power when they see them, and boy are they seeing them now.  So absurd has the sense of moral superiority become that no one seems to have noticed that the apparent clean pair of hands standing against Blatter last week was the offspring of the Jordanian autocrat king, trained at Sandhurst along with all those other dictators in waiting, while just to mirror things up the president of the FA is none other than Prince William, clearly there on merit.  Why oh why are the sponsors not taking a tougher line has been one of the other cries, as though the likes of Visa and McDonalds could give a damn about a few days of bad publicity when in their minds it's the brand exposure of a month of sport that makes all the difference.  This isn't like the News of the World, where a dying medium could be abandoned without a moment's thought.  That, and as the allegations against Nike and Brazil may well show, they're just as ensnared in the dealings as the Fifa executives themselves.

We should then be ready to boycott the 2018 World Cup, just to show how truly disappointed we are.  The Sun demands Uefa takes a firmer line on Blatter the "tyrant", as clearly it's implausible he didn't know what his underlings were up to, unlike, say Rupert Murdoch, or Rebekah Brooks.  A jury cleared her on that score after all.  There's also nothing to be concerned or wonder about in the ¬£5.14bn deal recently agreed between the Premier League and the broadcasters, while UEFA looks set to water down the financial fair play rules on the basis they could have the perverse effect of stopping other obscenely rich individuals from buying clubs and success along with it.  Think there might have been something equally fishy about the IOC giving the Winter Olympics to Sochi, or how the IOC has just as strict rules as Fifa does on athletes daring to make political statements, which in turn are written into the contracts said athletes need to sign to get funding?  Don't be silly.  Or perhaps you might wonder if rather than Blatter being the embodiment of hubris and shamelessness, it could instead be politicians who have no qualms whatsoever about greasing the wheels when it comes to arms deals with dictators, so long as it's good for UK plc.  Who cares a fig for the people in Yemen, Bahrain or Syria?  There's plenty more where they came from, just as the Qataris know there's plenty of Nepalese waiting for the chance to die in Doha.

Money, like it or not, corrupts everything.  We've seen it with the banks, where the barrel is completely rotten but nothing can be done lest it disintegrate entirely.  The FA and the Premier League like to think of themselves as better than Fifa when they're just as lucre obsessed, and have figureheads only slightly less objectionable than a Swiss who doesn't know when to quit.  We've seen it when not so long ago our then prime minister ordered a halt to a corruption investigation into the al-Yamanah weapons deal, as the saintly Saudis had threatened to stop sharing intelligence with us if we didn't.  Few kicked up a fuss beyond the usual suspects.

Don't let us get our way at the old kicky ball game though, and just sit back and watch the repercussions fly.  It might take years, we might not be personally responsible for the downfall when it comes, but it'll happen eventually.  We might not win at Eurovision, be any good at football itself, or be much other than an inexorably fading nation with an incredibly high opinion of itself, but boy can we bear a grudge.

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