In the aftermath of corruption allegations against executive commitee members being made public in the build-up to FIFA’s annual congress and presidential election, pressure for change has been unfolding. The English FA suggested postponing tomorrow’s vote for the unopposed return of Sepp Blatter as president following the withdrawal of his only competitor, Mohamed Bin Hammam, and Scotland’s FA repeated that call. Bin Hammam has claimed that the allegations against him are politically motivated, but there is little support for a postponement and with 75% of members needed to agree to do so, that won’t happen and Blatter will be re-elected tomorrow.
The overwhelming air is of futile protest as the steamroller grinds forward inexorably. Blatter’s tenure continues as leader of an organisation whose problems have developed under his stewardship. He is not an unwitting figurehead. His failure to outlaw practices such as secret voting and the touting of votes for sale so long as individuals are not seen to personally benefit encouraged those problems.
Major sponsors have expressed disquiet at the situation but as yet they haven’t managed to bring sufficient pressure to bear to make a difference, though many believe that only the withdrawal of their money will bring about change. Again that’s unlikely, as the corporations sponsoring FIFA events gain so much commercially from their association with the game.
So if sponsors won’t pull the plug and the re-election of the man responsible can’t be stopped, what can concerned parties in football do? A possible course would be for the FA to resign from FIFA altogether. Mark Palios, former Chief Executive at the FA, claimed today on Radio 4’s Today programme that this “would make no difference whatsoever to planet FIFA”. It’s true that the FA’s complaints are seen by other nations as sour grapes over England’s failure to win the bid to host the 2018 finals, and that willingness to be dictated to by England is non-existent anyway. Even so, if England withdrew from FIFA others might follow, especially in Europe. Perhaps UEFA could be persuaded to host a European Championship tournament every 2 years instead of 4 to fill the gap in the international calendar, or maybe even enough could be persuaded to start an alternative governing body and World Cup. The sponsors would probably follow the economically powerful nations, though Blatter’s power base is outside of the Old World and sponsors would also be reluctant to lose their influence in the developing world. Purely selfishly on the parts of the Home Nations FAs, leaving would also lose them the historically derived permanent seat on the game’s law-making body which they have fought to maintain for so long.
The danger in such a scenario is what would fill the gap. Without FIFA, club-dominated european FAs would prevail. The clubs themselves of course would prefer there to be no international football at all. Would a new governing body insist on priority over club competitions, as happens now? Without the imperative to release their players for fixtures, clubs would kill the international game. In addition, the suggestion to start afresh, somehow cleansed, ignores the obvious fact that each and every corrupt FIFA representative or committee member represents a national FA, and the chances are that the same individuals would largely end up back as a delegate to any new governing body. FIFA’s problems are not solely attributable to one man. Sepp Blatter is just the biggest obstacle to tackling them. As the FSF says, FIFA has lost all credibility. But the drawbacks to withdrawal mean that if international football is to survive change has to be by reform, not necessarily solely from within, but of the existing body.