Commentary

Reform is name of the game, but vote's still flawed

The candidates might promise to clean Fifa up but it is still an old boys' club

How is your insomnia? If you really cannot get a good night's sleep, maybe you should tune in to the Fifa channel and try to stay awake while 207 delegates, mostly elderly men, shuffle to the voting booth for one, two, and even more rounds to decide who becomes the next Sepp Blatter.

Correction. Fifa has banned Herr Blatter for six years. Just as Fifa has had to bar so many cronies of the corrupt old club because the FBI and belatedly, the Swiss authorities, decided to "reform" the wealthiest and dirtiest sporting organisations on earth.

Rumour has it that the police plan yet another spectacular raid on some Fifa bigwigs not yet plucked out of their Zurich five-star hotel beds in the previous purges.

So, I guess, I'm completely wrong in suggesting that the inertia of tonight's voting procedure might induce anyone to sleep. Shut your eyes and you might just miss the latest cops-and-robbers escapade.

Why be so flippant about what is, ostensibly, the start of the great clean-up of the running of the global game?

Because I've had over 40 years of this.

Disgraced former Fifa president Sepp Blatter may have been ousted from his seat at the top of football's governing body, but all five of his potential successors have also been part of a corrupt system that has eschewed transparency from the public e
Disgraced former Fifa president Sepp Blatter may have been ousted from his seat at the top of football's governing body, but all five of his potential successors have also been part of a corrupt system that has eschewed transparency from the public eye. PHOTO: REUTERS

Forty years reporting the Beautiful Game. And 40 years of greedy, vain men who mostly never played to a decent level, nevertheless pocketing illicit sums into private (often Swiss) bank accounts.

All five candidates for Blatter's old seat are insiders to the Fifa empire. They may not be personally accused by anyone, they may not have done anything wrong. But they are from the system which tolerated and fed off corruption as if all of life simply accepts that "it goes on, it is human nature".

It is ironic that it took the FBI to break Fifa. Ironic because countless Americans rather resent the great game - the men's game that is. They "get" women's soccer because the US wins world titles at that.

The US can send in the cops because they have the whistle-blower, the larger-than-life former Fifa marketing guru Chuck Blazer who was caught laundering his ill-gotten gains through American banks, without declaring income to the US tax authority.

Once Blazer coughed up to the prosecutors, and agreed to entrap other members of the Fifa executive in exchange for what he hopes will be lenient sentencing when his own trial happens, the ball rolled through the Fifa hierarchy quicker than Lionel Messi moves on the field.

Almost on a daily basis, the Adjudicatory Chamber and so-called independent Ethics Committee drop messages into my e-mail inbox.

These are bodies attempting to flush out Fifa's chicanery from the inside, rather than let American and Swiss courts get the culprits into the dock through due process. If they ever do.

Where I come in is a long, old story (and perhaps that WOULD send you to sleep).

Suffice to say that I was considered important enough in the 1970s and beyond for the Fifa overlords Joao Havelange and his aide Blatter to try everything from legal writs to posting (those were the old days) letters to editors suggesting they fire me.

The crime? Daring to investigate and expose the top dogs. The Brazilian Havelange, elected as president in 1974, practically invented, together with adidas, the golden triangle of football-television-and multinational sponsorships that turned Fifa from a parlous old organisation into the five billion dollar monster it is now.

No problem with that. Nor with what I call "legal bribery", Havelange's way of garnering votes in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The wily Brazilian knew the way to the hearts (and votes) of national football leaders was to offer them all a slice of the World Cup profits.

The handout is supposed to be for football development in their countries. The checks and balances to ensure it actually goes towards facilities and coaching were, shall we say, perfunctory at best.

President Havelange and general secretary (and eventual successor) Blatter travelled like kings around their domain, and turned a blind eye to some of their bagmen and chiefs of staff dipping fingers into the millions swilling around.

That is history, except that we have no proof that the habit has been expunged from the sport.

Today's vote is still flawed: All five candidates for Blatter's old seat are insiders to the Fifa empire. They may not be personally accused by anyone, they may not have done anything wrong. But they are from the system which tolerated and fed off corruption as if all of life simply accepts that "it goes on, it is human nature".

I will not pretend that somewhere along this murky trail I took my eyes off the mess. If years and years of effort to expose and report Fifa's malpractices achieved nothing, why spend so much time around the seedy corridors or the tedious marathon voting charade?

It always ended up with the same presidents - Havelange and Blatter on an unbroken 42 years of upwards profitability and downwards ethics.

Did they hope that suspicious journalists might find other things to do with their life? I did.

Did they think that the questions would go away so long as their chums all denied any knowledge of anything their brothers were up to? Probably.

And why would we tire of trying to question them? Because sleaze is not, ultimately what draws us to the game. Most of us would rather be thrilled by 30 seconds of what Messi or Ronaldo or say a young player like Dele Alli can conjure up with a ball that most of us could not aspire to in our wildest dreams.

The biggest laugh this week (although a cynical and hollow one) is one of the candidates, Prince Ali of Jordan, shipping in "transparent voting booths" so that we might all see that the voting is clear and free of corruption.

Fifa and the Court of Arbitration for Sport blocked that. Of course they did. It is enough that the world can look from their in-house cameras how the rank and file shuffle up to the secret ballot boxes. Two hundred and seven members, two at a time, shuffling up to wooden booths - but the moment that counts, placing a cross against one of the five names? Private, old boy.

Transparency? Sweet dreams.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2016, with the headline 'Reform is name of the game, but vote's still flawed'. Print Edition | Subscribe