Wednesday, 3 June 2015

FIFA and World Power

It is amusing to see the powerful fall down, but more interesting to see who pushed them over, especially when the ramifications highlight how the world works. Football (soccer, to some) is a big global business, but has developed with some odd features that are now being ironed out in a complex political game.

Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, has sort of resigned, but not quite yet. The immediate cause of his almost-exit was the probe by the US Department of Justice into fraud and money transfers using the US payments system, with many FIFA officials in the frame, and with more revelations to come. FIFA officials should have been more aware of the risk of such a reaction because US agencies have a strong record of tracking down dollar-based fraud when it does not involve their own top financiers. They might have done better to transfer funds in euros, not US dollars.

Blatter's problem was his success in getting support for his shenanigans from countries outside the usual realm of power, since in the FIFA form of democracy there was one vote per FIFA member-country irrespective of economic size or population, which included a large number of often small states outside Europe and North America. You do not need to imagine how much this annoyed the established powers, since they have made their complaints clear. For example, the UK has been anti-FIFA since losing its bid to host the 2018 World Cup tournament, when its own attempts to influence the vote were outmanoeuvred.

The main mistake of the Blatter-FIFA set up looks like it was to award Qatar with the 2022 World Cup, given the absurdly high summer temperatures in the country and the unwillingness of the Europeans to reschedule the tournament because it would then clash with their league season. That decision put the voting mechanism under  more scrutiny. However, the real problem for FIFA in the current political climate was that the 2018 tournament was given to Russia. Can you imagine? A pariah country facing the barbs of all media news outlets in Europe and the US, and one that has had the cheek to argue that western policy in the Middle East has led to disaster, is soon to hold a major world sports tournament! The western powers did not care that much about Russia's 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, but football is serious business watched by billions of people and attracting many billions of advertising and subscription revenues.

This anti-FIFA move could yet become embarrassing for the main imperialist powers. One point is that FIFA's inability to deal with corruption is partly related to the fact that national and regional football organisations, such as UEFA in Europe, have refused to be monitored by FIFA. Furthermore,  the investigations have uncovered corruption not only in South Africa's World Cup award in 2010. Today sees evidence from Charles Blazer, American former soccer administrator, that there was a similar game for the 1998 World Cup, which was hosted by France!

Football is not yet a big business in the US, and it probably has more room to investigate in this field where others fear to tread. The forthcoming news is liable to deliver more revelations, but the British and the other Europeans will use the turmoil to try and exert more influence over the international business of football.

Tony Norfield, 3 June 2015

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