The one topic that unites almost every segment of the soccer world is the need to reform its governing body, FIFA. Unfortunately, the man who is ringing in the changes, one Michel Platini —who officially announced his candidacy Wednesday, has a murky past. He voted for Qatar in the bidding for the 2020 World Cup, and worked closely with former France President Nicolas Sarkozy to help use his influence to Qatar win the vote in exchange for Qatar purchasing $7 billion worth of French fighter jets.
Certainly on the surface, Platini ticks a number of boxes which might ease some minds:
• Former world-class footballer (unlike Blatter who was a pure businessman),
• Overseer of the most established Confederation in soccer (UEFA), and
• A man who has looked to reform some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of European football (such as transfer spending through Financial Fair Play).
But when you scrape below, you’ll start to see some real issues.
When one thinks of scandal and FIFA, the awarding of Qatar 2022 immediately comes to mind. Unless your head has been firmly planted in Middle Eastern sand, you should realize this is an ongoing stain on the sport. Arrests, raids, document seizures, and deportations – these have all become commonplace for FIFA executives in recent months.
And in the midst of all of this, Platini has admitted to voting for the Qatar bid. He has also been one of the strongest proponents to move the tournament to winter to accommodate the extraordinarily harsh temperatures experienced in that region. As a former player, one can understand his desire for player safety. But as the head of UEFA, he must realize the bind his would create in his own region, interrupting the normal league season throughout Europe. And for what, to spread the game to a country smaller than the state of Connecticut (and with only 60% of the population)?
We’re supposed to believe that Platini is squeaky clean in this entire debacle? That he had no part in the shady aspects of the Qatar bid? That he has received no compensation for his consistent support of a World Cup that has cost workers’ lives and which could endanger the health of players in sweltering conditions?
Reports detail which FA’s are planning to support Platini. It is no surprise for Platini to have already lined up his European ducks in a row. But with CONCACAF presumably leaning in the direction of supporting Platini, a real interesting case could develop: the United States.
If the United States and Sunil Gulati support Platini, they will be putting their vote behind a man who thumbed his nose at their own bid for 2022. With all the posturing over Blatter’s corruption, do they really have no concerns about Mr. Platini’s dealings? Do they feel he is the best chance to reform the governing body? Or is it a case of the least of a number of evils?
We saw where this kind of blind support got the US in the past. After years of schmoozing Blatter, he still allowed the corrupt backchannels to undermine the US bid for 2022. Then for their trouble, USSF recently got smacked around in a Congressional Subcommittee meeting because of their presumed ignorance of Blatter’s criminal syndicate. Do they really want back on this train again?
If the US was truly behind reform, Gulati would look to run himself. Instead, he knows that it could cost USSF what it’s built up, namely a pyramid which runs outside of typical FIFA guidelines (i.e. expansion beyond 20 teams, a closed pyramid), and a strong marketing machine which rakes in a ton of money from hosting friendlies and regional tournaments.
So where does that leave us? Back to square one it seems. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Platini will be the slime-clearing crusader he wants us to believe he could be. If he’s not, it will likely be another decade or more before the next faux-reformer gets his or her chance.
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