Many seem to think that football (soccer to some less-enlightened) is the most significant human endeavor, which explains why stories about FIFA (football’s governing body...for the even less-enlightened) are dominating news media this week around the globe (except in the United States, of course). For those who live in a parallel universe, FIFA (or rather members of its executive committee and its president) have been accused (once again!) of bribery and corruption. The UK press have been leading the charge to expose the “rot” (their word) and unseat the leader (who they particularly hate and accuse of driving “the Game” into disrupt), partly because they feel miffed about England not being awarded the lucrative 2018 World Cup competition. They cannot understand how Russia could have beaten them: it has to be corruption and bribery. As always, it’s about money.
The chief villain is FIFA president Sepp Blatter, a 70+ Swiss lawyer, who has reigned supreme for 14 years. Before that, he was Secretary General, so he knows where he buried all the bodies for his “equally corrupt” predecessor. Many in the press accuse him of being an autocratic ruler, which does not play well in democracies (whose governments apply many of the same tactics). But, because the president is voted by a secret ballot of like-minded cronies, the press calls foul. Blanket press coverage is due to the fact that the presidential election is taking place this week...and there is only one candidate. There was one challenger, but he was accused...you guessed it...of corruption and bribery and been forced to withdraw.
Yesterday, poor Mr. Blatter was forced to face the hostile press and answer questions, which he is rarely required to do. He was clearly angry about having to even speak with people that are clearly beneath him in life’s peeking order. I can imagine that his heroes are people like Mobuto, Gaddafi, and Assad, who never have to endure a hostile press conference or answer unwanted questions. He surely prefers fawning sycophants, who bow, scrape, and ask no questions: men more interested in pleasing the boss than helping the sport.
But, that is not my point. I have dealt with many sport federation presidents and functionaries. Mr. Blatter is merely one example of the ilk. (I have met him and have friends that know him well. He is a nice man). I never felt that these men were corrupt or even greedy. Sure, they made money and lived well on other’s money, but they were driven by something else: ego. Many were short men (at the time, all were men), which explains their drive to dominate the circle in which they moved. They needed to have a huge ego massaged by holding an office and enjoying the trappings it provided. Of course, the larger federations have money (FIFA has the most), which these men control and use to stay in power. It is not unlike US politicians using pork to enhance and maintain their standing and hold onto office. They enjoy giving away other people’s money to benefit themselves. Money and power...
UK press moaning about “the Game” being dragged into disrupt is unfounded. Nothing will hurt the sport. Fans are interested only in what happens on the field. In between games, some might read an article about the politics, but only if there is nothing in the newspaper about players or a game. The media excitement this week is a tempest in a teapot, to use an English metaphor for an English media storm, which will die done once Mr. Blatter is unanimously re-elected by people that he has supported with generous FIFA “financial support”. Nothing will change, and stories will disappear from news media. He controls the money, so he can buy the votes. Once elected, he will return to doing what all sport federation presidents do best: maintaining his powerful position using funds generated by the sport.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.