SEPP, STILL HAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
Mickey Blue Eyes
As the world and his wife now know, Sepp Blatter is back as president of FIFA for another four years after the FIFA Congress voted him back in by 186 votes to 17 in an unopposed election: whatever you think of Blatter that is quite a victory margin. Clearly his opponents underestimated his popularity, or his political street smarts, or both. Also, an earlier attempt by the English and Scottish FAs and others to have the election postponed was defeated by a vote of 172-17. You could be forgiven an ironic smile or two given recent shenanigans in the ranks of both home grown associations.
So, after a near-hysterical anti-Blatter, anti-FIFA media assault in Britain, where did it all go "wrong"?......Then again, maybe it didn't go "wrong." Maybe it was the British football associations and mainstream media that isolated and humiliated themselves, in fact made a complete hypocritical ass of themselves. Can the rest of the footy world be the only corrupters and the British the only gallant, pristine defenders of democracy and honesty? But if you believe in a free vote how can you look at those voting margins and doubt the devastating verdict? Devastating, that is, to those, like the British, who opposed Blatter but couldn't find a candidate to stand against him. Can all one hundred and eighty-six delegates be corrupt? Plainly there was something more complicated going on.
The root of the current saga isn't too difficult to find: it is "Lord" David Triesman, Tottenham fan, first independent chairman of the English Football Association 2008-2010, and chairman of England's World Cup 2018 bid. There is more - or less, depending on your politics - to the man than first seems likely as you pass on a galloping horse (see http://www.newstatesman.com/200110010023). He was once a member of the Communist Party and later became a trades union administrator; later still, general secretary and a minister in the New Labour government. Some journey across the political spectrum, that, more than enough to place Rupert Murdoch's rabid, phone-tapping einstazgruppen on alert.
But within two weeks of the May General Election 2010 Triesman resigned from the FA and the WC bid after the Mail on Sunday did a tabloid scandal number on him because of an implied short extra-marital affair. He was audio taped at a restaurant tête a tête suggesting - suggesting, mind - possible referees corruption by Spain and Russia. A year after resigning he also made allegations of corruption in the FIFA World Cup bid process to a Parliamentary Committee. And much earlier, just two months after becoming chairman of the FA, he criticised the level of debt in the Premier League and the FA's lack of control of the English game and made some powerful enemies in both football and politics. He also co-wrote a book titled Football Mania: The Players And The Fans - The Mass Psychology Of Football (Ocean, 1973). In other words, David, bless him, has a track record as a football fan and as a half-hearted political dissident, living proof of Aneurin Bevan's warning that if you stand in the middle of the road all you get is run over.
To me, the current FIFA-centred circus smacks of mutual revenge and small minds, of typical Brit media xenophobia, of mean-spiritedness, and most of all of the hapless and incapable administration for which Britain is now infamous at all levels. With that as backcloth why be surprised if other nations assume the British are little more than self-pitying, self-righteous tribalists, Albion perfide in action? Can the rest of the footy world really be wrong when England's World Cup bid could only garner two votes out of twenty-two in December 2010 and couldn't even get past the first round? In the two months leading up to the voting the BBC and Murdoch's Sunday Times ran a campaign against FIFA corruption in the bid process; which drew perfectly understandable suspicions they were timing it to try to affect the outcome. In fact it effectively sabotaged the England bid and it isn't too difficult to see why. With the English game's modern track record of sleaze and an ultra right media infamous for its Janus faced hypocrisy, corruption and illegal practices, why be surprised when the rest of the world laughs in our paper-tiger face? Who the hell do we think we are to expect the football world to roll over?
Yes, I have little doubt FIFA is and has been corrupt. But there's nothing whatever new about it. It has been so for most of its existence since its well-meant inception in 1904. Only the intensity has varied. The present version evolved during the João Havelange presidency of 1974-1998. Sepp Blatter was his secretary general before becoming his anointed successor. Prior to that FIFA was Eurocentred and sometimes even racist in its policies, including the presidency of "Sir" Stanley Rous, England's white knight. At that time British mainstream media felt no urgent need to investigate FIFA. In recent years, independent investigative journalists Andrew Jennings, David Yallop and Tom Bower (amongst others) have exposed the FIFA goings-on for anybody who was interested enough to read them. Like many other football fans my book shelves groan under the weight of their books. So why did the BBC and Murdoch's Sunday Times wait to campaign? It all has the air of two drugs dealers trying to see off competition at the school gates or a buy-to-let crooked landlord avoiding health and safety obligations or a small time shares scammer talking up "free markets." They fool nobody but the most benighted and naive.
It becomes even dirtier when you check the news archives for reports during the preparation of England's World Cup bid. For instance, what are we to make of this by someone named Kevin Eason in the Times of 26th November 2009?:
"But the 2018 bid is no longer a laughing matter. A group of football grandees, who gathered for a post-match drink in the wood-panelled bar of one of England's senior clubs a few days ago, captured the mood of the country's tottering campaign.
"The trouble with David is that he just won't grease up to the people he needs to if we are going to win this bid," one said. "He just is too straight, too honest and too nice. But that is not the way the world works, especially the world of football. You have to wonder how he got into this position." "
There is no indication in the article that the "greasing up" is wrong, only that Triesman apparently wouldn't go along with it and apparently lacked "oomph." This, according to Eason, from Jack Warner, one of the FIFA figures now accused by Triesman. If this is taken at its face value, one of England's leading "football grandees" actually encouraged the bribery and corruption that David Triesman was resisting at the time (and has now chosen to expose). And this was six months prior to the Mail on Sunday tabloid smear. In fact for their usual political reasons far right Mail newspapers had been after Triesman for years. And in a later Times article in 2010 the same Eason accused him of being "a square peg in football's round hole." So much too for Eason's credibility. And these are only a couple of examples of how the English media manufactured its tedious hysterical propaganda, a method which we on Merseyside are well acquainted with.
Conspiracy theorists, get cracking.
But, equally, why did Triesman wait a year before making his allegations? If he had irrefutable proof why wait for the shelter of parliamentary privilege? Why didn't he expose the goings-on as his parting gift to the football world? Was he merely working out a tawdry vendetta with his enemies?
Added to that was the sorry tale of England's failed, near-ludicrous bid for World Cup 2006. It will be recalled the English FA betrayed a promise to Germany to support their (eventually successful) bid; also, there were allegations of sleazy English attempts to secure support from the Welsh FA for a FIFA vice presidential bid by FA chairman Keith Wiseman, which might in turn have underpinned England's World Cup bid. Eventually both he and Chief Executive Graham Kelly resigned over the affair despite being cleared of wrong doing by a FIFA investigation. On that occasion England's bid could secure only five votes and were deservedly eliminated after they got only two votes in the second round. So twice in ten years the English have been caught with their trousers down while trying to manipulate FIFA. Is it any wonder other countries, corrupt or not, laugh up their sleeves when the English football Establishment and mainstream media come over all self-righteous? Actually it reeks of the very worst of Anglo, Sun and Daily Mail-type xenophobia; more than likely it means the disappearance for a generation of any prospect of the World Cup coming to this country. We can have no complaint.
Whatever the general state of world football and FIFA it is difficult to feel any sympathy whatever for the English FA. If David Triesman is perhaps guilty of wreaking well-timed revenge on his political tormentors it is at least partly understandable in the light of his sabotaged all-too-short attempts to set the English game on the right administrative path. Maybe he timed his allegations to coincide with the FIFA Congress and presidential election and cause maximum mischief, maybe he didn't. Frankly I hope he did. As for our "outraged" media, I can't imagine any reasonably intelligent fan takes them and their Little Englander journalists with anything other than a very large dose of contempt.
Talk in the last few days has been of future World Cup venue awards being made by vote of FIFA Congress, not a select committee. If true, this won't necessarily prevent corruption unless the process is totally transparent, vigorously policed and subject to a total ban on lobbying of any kind. Anybody who breached the standards to be excluded from all levels of the game sine die. Conceivably, an increase in voting numbers could actually lead to more opportunities for skulduggery. The same applies to presidential elections. The FIFA statutes will have to be revisited and amended to suit in open debate. In truth there is no completely foolproof system. You have only to look at notorious election frauds and corruption in American elections. There are many others.
The more one looks at the farce the more one feels the culprits all deserve each other. It is tempting to say this latest saga will finally clear the air, but I wouldn't make book on it. Italy, worst long term offender of all, has had several such moments and matters there have only worsened - they are currently embroiled in yet another match-fixing scandal.
Ultimately football is no more than a symptom of the kind of socioeconomic system we have created: we deserve what we get. Right now that applies to English football more than any other. Here, it isn't football that is coming home, it is chickens. And there are a few more yet to arrive......