FIFA is all about ‘cash for votes’; Here’s how it could be ended

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In two weeks time, Sepp Blatter will almost certainly win a fifth term as president of FIFA and we can expect another round of the ritual despairing comment from the British press and the other pockets of resistance to the way the global game is run. But nothing will change.

The three candidates who have stood against Blatter in this election may pick up a little more support than skeptics would expect. Luis Figo, Michael van Praag and Prince Ali of Jordan knew they had little chance of overthrowing the Blatter regime but they have traveled widely and worked hard in an attempt to rally some opposition.

They will have found some mavericks willing to turn against Blatter, but the odd rebel here and there isn’t going to change anything significantly inside FIFA. As ESPN’s documentary this week showed (for anyone still to be convinced), Blatter has built an electoral machine around the distribution of funds and favors to federations.

The trio of opposition candidates have tried to play Blatter at his own game – they have actually offered the national federations even more money than they currently get from Zurich. Offering more funds to tiny nations, some of whom barely have a national team let alone a national league, was probably the only way to build a majority to turn against Blatter. But most will prefer to stick with the devil they know and the guarantee that the cash will keep on flowing. It is a pathetic and tawdry state of affairs.

The money that heads out of Zurich comes mainly from the revenue generated by the World Cup, primarily from television rights. It is the huge fees paid by television companies in Europe and the U.S. and increasingly Asia that ends up being sent off to ‘development’ projects which Blatter uses to maintain his power.

The television companies therefore hold some power and influence – in theory. In practice, they keep quite about Blatter and FIFA because they desperately want the men in Zurich to give them the rights to the biggest event in world sport. It was telling that ESPN produced its critical Blatter documentary only after they lost the rights to the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to FOX Sports and were later carved out of the 2026 rights.

If the big television companies united and refused to pay the rights or bid for them until FIFA cleaned up its act, change would follow. But they won’t unite because they compete against each other.

Of course, we all are in some way guilty of playing along with Blatter’s game. National federations in UEFA may be sick of Blatter but they aren’t about to boycott the World Cup or break away from FIFA. The British newspapers lambast FIFA with impressive frequency, but their journalists still line up for their press passes to cover World Cup games – as does this writer. And the fans could, in theory, undermine everything, if they boycotted FIFA tournaments.

Blatter is going to be around for as long as he can physically do the job, but eventually he will stand down and then there will be a brief opportunity to change the culture of FIFA as well as its leadership.

One of the most depressing effects of the Blatter regime has been to poison such honorable notions as solidarity to developing nations with cynicism. Using the vast resources from the World Cup to do good in developing nations would, if it were done properly and not as part of a client-system of cash-for-votes, be a noble endeavor.

FIFA has proven incapable of ensuring these funds are properly distributed, applied and audited and somehow it should be forced to relinquish the responsibility for these programs.

Instead of FIFA’s leadership deciding where the money goes and how it should be spent, the process should be taken out of their hands. The World Cup revenues should be put into a Global Football Fund to be administered by key organizations in the development sphere such as the Red Cross, United Nations, Medicine sans Frontiers and others. There are good projects being done already – read this report on a refugee camp in Jordan for victims of the war in Syria.

Instead of ‘World Cup bonuses’ just being handed over to national federations, there should be a bidding process for grants. Federations and/or governments or NGO’s should state clearly what they want to do with the money and the Fund would have the power to assess whether they have kept their word. Those countries that fail to deliver the projects, will be banned from future grants. Not only would this system deliver a more just and efficient use of resources, it would remove the FIFA president from the handing over of cash.

The World Cup cash should be used entirely for grassroots football initiatives where the game can do social good – building facilities for kids and not for programs related to national teams and not for federation headquarters or staff salaries. FIFA could provide a minimal administrative grant to help federations participate in World Cup qualifiers – nothing more.

Taking the distribution of World Cup funds out of the hands of FIFA and the FIFA president would end the client system that has kept Blatter in power and could be replicated by his replacement. Forcing a change such as this wouldn’t be easy and would require pressure from the outside – from governments, sponsors and television companies as well as those inside honest and decent federations.

It is a long shot of course. The status quo is perfect for unaccountable federations, particularly those in countries with limited democratic checks and balances and where there is little real scrutiny over the use of resources from the press. It is ideal for FIFA presidents who know they can keep power and its rewards through their hand-outs.

It isn’t going to happen while Blatter is in power. But if FIFA is ever going to clean itself up, breaking the link between cash and votes, is the vital first step.

Editor’s note: Every Thursday, World Soccer Talk featured columnist Simon Evans shares his thoughts and opinions on world soccer topics. You can follow Simon on Twitter at @sgevans. Plus, read Simon’s other columns for World Soccer Talk.

 

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One Response

  1. AmericanizeSoccer May 14, 2015

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