A Political Football That Won’t go out of Play?

FIFA headquarter in Switzerland. Photo by: MCaviglia.

LONDON (ViaNews) – A new book claims to shoot World Cup bribes back into the penalty area; a streaky, bobbling pass that emerges straight from disgraced former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.

‘Whatever it takes – The inside story of the FIFA way’ is written by Bonita Mersiades, a whistle-blower who was a senior executive of the Australian FA’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Mersiades spent two days talking with Blatter in a Swiss Restaurant in 2017, as is explained by a preview of the book in the Mail on Sunday. The former FIFA president was in expansive mood, throwing an offside trap over a number of fellow executives, including the German footballing hero Franz Beckenbauer.

The former executive claims that Blatter told him that he knew the World Cup would be awarded to Qatar as the French boss of UEFA, Michel Platini, told him that many of the European team would be switching their votes from America to Qatar. He then alleges to have passed the information on to Barrack Obama to warn him to expect bad news.

Links are drawn to a meeting Platini, himself a former World Cup star, held with the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, where the purchase of a number of French-built planes by the Qatari leadership was discussed.

Other allegations in the book surround a $100 million ‘bonus’ payment by the BeIN broadcaster, formerly known as Al Jazeera. Blatter is also said to have been promised a free run on his re-election goal if he supported the Qatari bid, as the only other contender for FIFA president was himself a Qatari national.

Stories of corruption at FIFA are well established, particularly during the Blatter years. But other questions are raised by the book, as well as different stories that have drifted out from the footballing bureaucracy.

One of the biggest is the question of why Barrack Obama needed to know that his country’s bid was likely to fail. After all, the World Cup is supposed to be a sporting competition, not a political one. Of course, this is far from the truth and always has been.

As far back as the second tournament, held in Italy in 1934, political intrigue superseded sporting endeavour. Uruguay, the holders, boycotted the competition because only four European sides had made the trans-Atlantic journey to attend their own event four years earlier. Then, Benito Mussolini hijacked the football and used it as a vehicle to promote his own Fascist propaganda and policies.

Another concern to rear its head from Blatter’s alleged revelations is the notion that the host countries had already been allocated, prior to the vote taking place. This is given as virtually read, mitigated by the fact that FIFA likes to give turns to the various footballing regions of the world. (Except, that is, for Oceania, which has never hosted the tournament.) Apparently, it was Europe’s turn in 2018, then Concacaf in 2022. Concacaf represents Central and North America.

To have awarded the World Cup to the USA in 2022 would have meant a quarter of all competitions between 1994 and 2022 would have gone to the economic might of the US. That in itself raises further question marks over the involvement of politics in the allocation of host nations.

By looking back at every host country since the inaugural tournament, the presence of developing nations is notable by its almost complete absence. Mexico, Brazil, France, Germany, and Italy have each hosted it twice, while Argentina, England, South Africa, Switzerland, Sweden and Spain have held one tournament each. South Korea and Japan shared the role of host in 2002 and Chile’s competition of 1962 is perhaps the only time a country where financial clout is low has been allowed to organise the event.

That tournament was marred by controversy – perhaps to the detriment of other smaller South and Central American countries where football is popular, but wealth is not.
Looking at the single nation from Africa, and the shared Asian hosts, the conclusion can be drawn that the most ‘Western’ of nations seem to hold most sway in any of the less established footballing regions.

Perhaps the lesson learned by ‘unfashionable’ nations is that the only way to get noticed is to force the ball to their feet. And that, where FIFA has been concerned, usually involves money or expensive gifts. The sport of football, at its highest level, is about political clout above all else.

Britain does not cover itself in glory. Its own bid for the upcoming tournament included the presence of Prince William. He may be a football fan, but his presence at events could only have been an attempt to influence voters.

‘Whatever it Takes…’ is not the first book about corruption and the World Cup. It won’t be the last. Whether it adds much to transparency and truth surrounding the game will take a while to discover. But as for the launch? The Houses of Parliament. A book decrying political influence in football, presented in the home of British politics. The irony seems to have been lost on someone.

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