Commentary

Fifa crisis: Fifa empire faces its sternest test

A police van drives past the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich yesterday, when seven Fifa officials were arrested and detained pending extradition to the United States. The early-morning raids related to suspected corruption within soccer's governing body,
A police van drives past the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich yesterday, when seven Fifa officials were arrested and detained pending extradition to the United States. The early-morning raids related to suspected corruption within soccer's governing body, according to a statement by the Swiss Federal Office of Justice.PHOTO: REUTERS

IF THE Fifa presidential election goes ahead in Zurich tomorrow - as it most probably will - rest assured that Sepp Blatter will be re-elected to continue doing whatever it is he has presided over for the past 17 years.

In fact, it is a continuation of the alleged corruption of the finest game in the world, football, that began in 1974 when Joao Havelange became the overlord. Havelange, and his then right-hand man Blatter, ousted Stanley Rous as leader by one simple ploy.

They pledged a share of the spoils of Fifa's global games in exchange for votes. The now 209-nation, one-man-one-vote system of electing the president, was won and keeps on being won by payments to each country from the World Cup profits.

Those payments, more than US$250,000 (S$338,000) per national association per annum, are at best lifeblood to the smaller nations. At worst they get siphoned off into private bank accounts.

The share out is not illegal. It is the way of the world in which members of a private club are induced to elect their leader. But you would have to be very naive not to acknowledge that when the whole of Africa and the whole of Asia pledge their bloc votes to J.S. Blatter again, in advance of this election, then he is halfway towards winning a landslide re-coronation.

The alleged bribery and corruption of another set of voters, those on the all-powerful Fifa executive committee, in the run-up to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively, follow the money. That has been admitted in a handful of cases, and the members were exorcised, ousted from the inner club but with no criminal charges as yet for their profiteering.

The same, you'll remember, happened with the Olympics over the Salt Lake City voting scandal.

And while Blatter has not been personally found to have taken money, he surely is tainted by the fact that it happened on his watch. And the so-called external investigation by a former American federal investigator Michael Garcia, remains blocked from publication by Fifa until after the presidential election (near certain re-election) takes place.

Havelange, meantime, has been allowed to claim failing health, old age, and unavailability to answer to either Fifa or the International Olympic Committee after a Swiss court found him guilty in a different affair, the appropriation of money into his own bank account from Fifa commercial partners.

If you say it stinks, I couldn't possibly disagree.

But then, as both Havelange and Blatter have tried to have me removed and silenced from newspaper writing for those 40 years of their reign, I have long given up wasting my time (and yours as readers) re-stating the evidence.

However, I am uneasy this morning about America presenting itself as the world's policeman in this matter. Sure, the dawn raid in that posh Zurich hotel by plain-clothed cops acting on behalf of the FBI (a shock to the arrested Fifa members but not, apparently to the invited media cameras in the street outside) was both a thrilling and a chilling orchestrated peep show.

We wait to see how and if this ever passes through the US legal system.

Personally, as keen as I am to see the Beautiful Game rid of its appalling self-serving leadership, I wonder how on earth it can be the best use of American federal money to round up a few Fifa bigwigs in their sleep - while the US has its own problems such as massive fraud in its banking system.

Those are society's ills, not sports? Then let's talk sport. Earlier this month, the NFL suspended Tom Brady, the finest quarterback of his generation, for four games for allegedly using deflated balls in qualifying the New England Patriots for the Super Bowl.

He may or may not have knowingly cheated, that's for the appeals jury to determine. But what is unnerving are the reports that sales of "Tom Terrific" jerseys and other merchandise have broken all records - presumably a response from every disaffected kid (or grown-up) who wishes to put two fingers up to officialdom.

I may be straying off topic, though I suggest this is all related. It is that pro sports are related to lifestyle attitudes. Fifa has been getting away with it for decades, and so have many others in many walks of life.

But back to what connects the FBI to Zurich.

The FBI raid in Zurich was followed by a US Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs document detailing the indictment against nine Fifa officials on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption.

It makes Al Capone look small-time compared to the mob in Zurich. And among the colourful characters who turned witness to help the FBI is Chuck Blazer, the one-time head of Fifa marketing and TV negotiator, friend of President Putin, and former ally of Jack Warner, the former head of the Concacaf region that controls football in Central and North America.

Blazer is dying of cancer and did a deal to "flip" in the American term, to turn witness and keep himself out of jail in what time he has left. This extract from Wednesday's Justice Department tome gives a sense of it:

"On Nov 25, 2013, the defendant Charles Blazer, the former Concacaf general secretary and a former Fifa executive committee member, waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a 10-count information charging him with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, income tax evasion and failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). Blazer forfeited over US$1.9 million at the time of his plea and has agreed to pay a second amount to be determined at the time of sentencing."

The American who became the FBI's whistleblower once filled in his biography on the Fifa website by nominating his idol. He could have said Pele, but he didn't. He called Joao Havelange "a majestic symbol of elegance in our sport".

An influence, certainly. But elegance would not describe his legacy.

stsports@sph.com.sg