FIFA: when under attack, shoot the messenger

By Steven Downes,
The unedifying goings-on in Zurich this week have made for fascinating reading and watching. In the British media.

Best of friends? Jack Warner, right, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter

But as Sepp Blatter’s control of world football strides confidently, and unopposed, into another four years, it is worth noting that yesterday, while Blattergate made the lead item on the BBC news and front pages of various national newspapers here, in France, L’Equipe‘s coverage of les events FIFAesque could only be found on page 11 (anything more prominent might embarrass M. Platini).

In Italy Gazzetta dello Sport put its coverage of FIFA on page 15. So clearly global sporting corruption and bribery is no big deal in Milan then.

Today, the British press has been traduced by football officials and politicans from around the world. England is a nation of liars, according to some of the passengers on Sepp’s gravy train at FIFA. And that is the polite version.

Yet none of the disclosures made by BBC’s Panorama or by the Sunday Times in the past six months or more have been proven false. Indeed, some have been further endorsed as entirely correct not only by the Swiss legal system, but even in the “tsunami” unleashed by one of Blatter’s key henchmen (and someone always ready with a spare ticket for a big World Cup match), Jack Warner.

It is perhaps timely to remind SJA members, and football writers more generally, of the remarks made by the SJA President, Sir Michael Parkinson, last December at our annual awards event, and just after the latest round of bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Then, with Blatter’s weasel words blaming the vigilant British media for his latest round of discomfort still fresh in our thoughts, Parky called on all sports journalists “to spend the next eight years looking under every FIFA rock” to uncover yet more evidence of the self-serving graft that has been such a feature of the world football body.

So here’s a message to FIFA from Britain: your warm words will only encourage us to look deeper and go further to uncover more of those dark secrets you really do not want people  to know about.

It is invidious at this stage to highlight the work of any one SJA member in Zurich this week, with the likes of David Bond, Martyn Ziegler and Paul Kelso all turning around copy for their TV stations, agencies or newspapers, online and via Twitter, with such industrious good nature.

But here, posted earlier today on the Guardian website, is a taster from David Conn of what it is like to be one of the pariahs of world football:

Overnight in damp, drizzly Zurich, the English press – or to give us our correct FIFA title, the lying, cheating, allegation-concocting English press – were wondering how much support the Football Association chairman, David Bernstein, would find for his arguments that the FIFA recoronation of president Sepp Blatter should be postponed.

Not a lot, came the consensus, both within our gang of rabid liars and, privately, among the ashen-faced FA suits, shuffling towards their seats across a howling glacier of icy stares.

Yet none of us had properly thought through what the Sepp Blatter loyalists were orchestrating, in the corral of five-star Zurich hotels where the pre-congress business is conducted…

…”I’ve been advised by some not to speak, but this is a democratic organisation,” Bernstein began, demonstrating his need for a little more time to gain his bearings in Blatter’s football family.”We are subject to universal criticism from governments, sponsors, media and the wider public,” he went on. “The election has turned into a one-horse race. I ask for a postponement, for an additional candidate or candidates to stand – in an open or fair process.”

There was some applause, but in our group of allegation-lovers, we could not agree if it came from two or three people. Then came the avalanche of anti-English attacks, which should not have taken us so much by surprise. After a paean to Blatter from Yves Jean-Bart of Haiti, came Constant Selemani Omari, the president of the FA of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who welcomed Bernstein with this: “I want to say to the representative of England that we are ill at ease with people who wield unfounded accusations.”

He was followed by Benin’s Anjorin Moucherafou, who argued by way of introduction that: “The difference between animals and human beings is our reason.”

Then he used his reason to say: “When you see what England gain from football – people in my country take great pleasure from watching the Premier League – why would we want to kill Fifa, pit some against others?”

He added: “We must applaud the president,” which prompted thoughts of one-party states rather than democracies around the world. “Please – more applause.”

Costakis Koutsokoumnis of Cyprus produced the killer, breathtaking line: “What a beautiful English word, allegations”…

… It was, in its way, quite funny, until the intervention of Julio Grondona, a senior FIFA vice-president and long term Argentinian heavyweight of the Blatter regime. Grondona only on Tuesday described the English as “pirates” and said of the England 2018 bid: “If you give back the Falkland Islands, which belong to us, you will get my vote.”There was some genuine menace in his address here. “We always have attacks from England,” Grondona said, setting his stall out as not a Bernstein man. “Mostly with lies and the support of a journalism which is more busy lying than telling the truth. Would you please leave the FIFA family alone!”

The vote, when it followed, was a shock. Fifteen football associations supporting England’s and Scotland’s postponement call? Something to build on, definitely.

Blatter himself, remarkably, you have to say, at 75, took the stage and promised reforms… “Our ship, is in difficult, even troubled waters,” he told his passengers. “I am the captain, weathering the storm. We must put this ship back on its course.

“I want to get this ship out of choppy waters, and put it once again into a safe harbour, so we can once again build our pyramid.”

Bernstein, our liars’ crowd agreed, can be pleased with 15. Only 172 against him, all together in that choppy boat in Zurich, ready to wave Captain Blatter through for another four years.

And to think that Andrew Jennings was going to retire. Looks like Panorama‘s man in the Columbo raincoat has got another four years’ work ahead of him.

Read David Conn’s article in full by clicking here.


Mon Sep 12: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. Click here for more details and to book yourself in for the day.

Wed Dec 7: SJA 2011 British Sports Awards – Booking now open. For more details, click here.

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