Friday, 3 December 2010

Corruption...and our surprising responses to it!

Katherine Pendill’s recent facebook status update brought the line “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are” by Anais Nin to my attention. I had never encountered this quote before, although it really only restates the obvious fact that a lot of what we observe can never be empirically proven, especially where other people and their actions are concerned, as it is as much a result of our perception as it is of whatever phenomenon we think we are perceiving.

But…

Doesn’t there come a point where so many people think they ARE seeing things AS THEY ARE that it’s highly unlikely that so many people can wrong? At this point are we merely discussing a consensus of opinion or reality itself?

Something happened today. To many people it will seem trivial, but to many millions of others, including me, it was actually quite important. I make no apologies for finding it important, it’s part of my “cultural heritage”, it’s one of the subjects I’ve always been most interested in (regardless of how trivial some others may find it), it’s something I love the way I love music or books or films.

FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Assocation, the world governing body of international football, awarded the World Cup, the flagship international football tournament, to Russia for staging in 2018 and to Qatar for staging in 2022.

“Okay,” you might say (I’m assuming a large number of people reading this will have no interest at all in football, hence the cool reaction), “it’s an international tournament, so why not Russia and Qatar?” And, at that level, you’d be absolutely right in saying that and Sepp Blater, the FIFA President, does have an agenda for taking the World Cup to nations and continents that have never hosted the tournament before.

But…

Let’s get the clich├ęd elephant in the room out in the open – FIFA is an endemically corrupt organisation. Two of its executive members have been suspended for selling votes. Another, Jack Warner, was fined $1million (US) for profiteering on the black market with tickets for the 2006 tournament held in Germany and then attempted to order $84.5million worth of tickets for the 2010 tournament in South Africa, presumably for the same reason; to put together over-priced corporate packages which bypass the authorized ticket allocation system. That fact that Warner was still on the FIFA Executive Committee beggars belief; most nations regard black market ticket touting as not only immoral but illegal and he should surely have been facing charges somewhere. Three other members of the executive committee were named in a BBC documentary only three days before the votes took place as having received payments and bribes from at least one sporting organisation.

I’m not going to go into all the details of these allegations, I’m not writing this for a publication that will give me money to do so or a university course that will give me a mark towards a qualification, so you can all happily Google away yourselves and look at the evidence. You may have to pay to look at the Times pages online but that’s a small price if you want the full story. Suffice to say that putting “FIFA” and “corruption” together in a Google search will get you over 500 references. The choice of two nations with the poorest technical bids (ie: no stadiums currently capable of hosting the tournament, no travel infrastructure, insufficient hotel accommodation, etc) and mixtures of dodgy human rights, corrupt political institutions, suspected mafia involvement in police forces and judicial systems and the like were never going to be anything less than controversial.

The point of this piece is to ask what should be done about such an organization and, more tellingly maybe, why are so many people in the United Kingdom happy to turn a blind eye to such corruption and castigate the news organizations that report it? Four of the five panel members on BBC’s Question Time on December 2nd were actively criticizing the BBC for not postponing the Panorama documentary into alleged FIFA corruption screened on Monday November 29th until after the December 2nd vote. The letter pages of Football365.com are today full of fans haranguing the BBC and The Sunday Times for England losing the World Cup bid; the same can be found on BBC and Yahoo web forums. The only notable exception in coverage that I have seen so far came from Michael Portillo on the BBC’s This Week programme broadcast immediately after Question Time, and he asked exactly the question I have above: Are we now happy as individuals to just allow corruption to flourish as long as we get what we want?

I can only answer the second question for myself and I say “No!” I know people who I believe to be corrupt in one way or another; where nothing has been proven against them I will keep my own consul and keep them at arms length, where something has been proven against them I will disassociate myself from them and also from anyone who decides that their behaviour is acceptable. This is my chosen stance and it can sometimes bring me into conflict with other people who don’t share my views on this or on the individuals involved. I admit I have made incorrect judgments in the past and, where this has happened, I have apologized and left it up to the other person to decide how they wish to relate to me, or not as the case may be, from that point onwards. Having a moral stance in life in not an optional extra; being mealy mouthed about a situation you see as wrong is not a positive character trait (don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or lose “influence” or, worse still, have to admit to being wrong), it’s cowardice pure and simple!

Having got that out of the way and magically made myself the Chief Executive of the English Football Association for the duration of this piece, I will now answer the first question: What should be done about FIFA and its corrupt antics?

The first thing the English FA should do is resign its memberships of both FIFA and UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) which would then exclude the English national team and English club sides from all competitions run under the auspices of these organizations. FIFA would not give a damn about this, but, believe me, UEFA would. The European Champions League and Europa League competitions derive a lot of their financial power from the participation of English clubs and the support of English supporters, Sky Television makes a lot of money from English subscribers watching these games on their sports channels.

The second thing to do would be to invite all nations that have an issue with these tournaments to take part in alternative World tournaments in the same years which would be run in England (or the whole United Kingdom should the other domestic Football Associations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide to join in action against FIFA). Most pointedly, invitations would be sent to Spain and the United States of America, both of whom have also expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the 2018 and 2022 tournament awards (even President Obama has called the 2022 award to Qatar wrong). Indeed, either Spain or the USA might be tempted to host one of the tournaments as an alternative to England and should be actively encouraged to do so.

Thirdly, the UK government should be lobbied to request international political investigation into a body that sees itself as something akin to the Vatican, allowing no political input into the independent football associations of each nation upon fear of expulsion from “the family” of football associations but quite happy to demand tax concessions for itself and its “partner” organisations from national governments in order to allow international tournaments to take place on their territory (this is part of the conditions that FIFA require governments of football associations wishing to bid to hold their tournaments sign up to).

Will this happen? I doubt it, but I’d be interested to see what might happen if these requests went “viral” on the internet and every football fan with an issue over these tournaments suddenly started emailing their domestic football associations and ministers (or equivalent) for sport with these demands.

I’m off to start emailing…