Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Before Celebrating the Fall of Fifa's Sepp Blatter, English Football Should Get Its Own House in Order

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Before Celebrating the Fall of Fifa's Sepp Blatter, English Football Should Get Its Own House in Order

Article excerpt

"Let's all celebrate," said Greg Dyke, the Football Association chairman, as the Fall of the House of Blatter gained momentum. Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, had finally quit; the American former football administrator Chuck Blazer was in the confessional, with Fifa's ex-vice-president Jack Warner--Samson in the temple--threatening to pull the house down by naming all the guilty. Yes, it's easy for those who care for the game to feel a sense of liberation but in reality there is little if anything to celebrate.

That Fifa has been shown to be a corrupt body is no surprise, nor are the questions over the awarding of past World Cups to Brazil, France and South Africa and future tournaments to Russia and Qatar. But amid all the perfidy, some of Fifa's successes should be remembered. The decision to stage the 2010 competition in South Africa was derided in parts of the western media as misguided, given the country's crime and transport challenges. Yet the event was a triumph. (Let's not forget, too, that under the presidency of the Englishman Stanley Rous, apartheid South Africa was readmitted to Fifa in 1963.) Blatter's consistent championing of new frontiers for the game --Africa and Asia in particular--enhanced football's reputation and standing as the world game. His insistence on broadcasting the World Cup on free-to-air television, too, was a long-term benefit to the game and boosted its global following.

For all their righteous indignation about Fifa's misdeeds under Blatter, the English football authorities were willing participants in the circus, bidding with the triple might of the nation's royalty, David Beckham and the West Ham- (sorry, Aston Villa)-supporting Prime Minister for the right to stage the game's premier international contest. When Panorama broadcast its expose of Fifa's activities, both the FA and David Cameron were forthright in their criticisms. And it was hard not to laugh at the belated strong words of condemnation from Britain's favourite tattooed men's underwear model, after he'd spent so much time attempting to woo the disgraced Jack Warner, making trips to Trinidad and issuing statements of support along the lines of describing him as "an uncle". De Montfort University gave Blatter an honorary degree, and Boris Johnson described his visit to the UK as akin to one by a head of state.

In condemning Vladimir Putin's support for Blatter and his dismissal of early claims of corruption as a western conspiracy, let us also not forget that a prominent player in Russia's 2018 bid was Roman Abramovich, owner of the English champions, Chelsea. The season's runners-up, Manchester City, have owners from the United Arab Emirates and supported Qatar's 2022 bid. And among the owners of Football League clubs are the convicted money launderer Carson Yeung (Birmingham) and Massimo Cellino (Leeds United), who has two convictions for fraud. …

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