A FIFA Tsunami

It was a strange day in Zurich. In the morning, about a hundred journalists awaited a press conference with a supposed informant, who never materialised. In the afternoon, former Miss Switzerland Melanie Winiger got the FIFA Congress under way in the Hallestadion, before 1,200 guests. The first act was the 21 year old Czech juggler, Alan Sulc. But the main event featured an even more adept juggler, Sepp. Then Swiss musician Nicolas Senn played a complex-looking string instrument. The Mayor of Zurich, Corinne Mauch, hailed dearly-held FIFA ‘values’ such as ‘discipline, solidarity, and social responsibility’. And Grace Jones closed out the show singing La Vie en rose.

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It all began when pegamequemegusta was just a buck, heavily braced in shoulders, legs and teeth. After years of cuddly, warming smog and the coal trucks beloved of all tykes, the streets had finally been repaired following the gas works, freed up for the clean energy of the soon-to-be-abundant automobile. We finally got a glimpse of the cruel Irish sky, when we had been told our dreams were merely nestling behind the clouds. We turned our gaze earthwards in dismay only to be rewarded with a truly celestial presence, Kevin Kilbane tearing down the left wing. Up in the schoolboys’ section of glorious old Marquess Lansdowne’s little fantasy patch, when we weren’t reenacting the heroic battle of Kloster Kampen, we would clutch our two punt tickets into a ball into a dropsyish fever as Killser hared past skittish defenders and drove towards the byline. The tension at such moments was no less than the pressure exerted by a badger’s jaws on a wayward postman’s leg. Cross it, cross it! we’d roar. Killser knew better, though. Such a move demanded a still more stunning finish. The ‘keeper wouldn’t be expecting a shot from such an outré angle. Thwack! 

Invariably, however, his shots would end up in the side-netting. Such brilliance undermined by a fatal flaw. His teammates would march back to pick up their positions and await the ensuing goal kick. Another move, albeit brilliant, the product of a single genius, wasted. We would mutter oaths about the perfidious French and tend to those fallen comrades of ours who really had been suffering attacks of the dropsy during the excitement. 

Thus began pegamequemegusta’s inability to finish anything we start. thousands of words written, no conclusion, days pass, out of date, dodgy enough anyway, abandon, delete, chau. Translations, on the other hand, pose no such problems, some other proper person already having done the hard part and concluded the tale. So here’s another one from the always substantial Ezequiel Fernández Moores of La Nación from last Wednesday.

Off the Ball listeners and assiduous internet football ‘people’ will probably knew most of this story already, but pegamequemegusta has never been about bringing you the news. No, amongst all the shrillness this week, there was much amazement at the fact that most media organs outside Britain & Ireland didn’t really seem to care too much about the FIFA congress and Blatter’s farcical re-election. While there has been precious little mention of it here, either, we thought it worthwhile to highlight EFM’s contribution. He speaks English himself so will have read many of the same pieces as you, dear handsome reader. Indeed, the piece almost seems written from the English point of view: he doesn’t question any of Triesman’s assertions at all, for instance. Then again, he’s no pirata, and we found intriguing the statement that the clean-up at the IOC was “more ethnic than it was ethical”.

It’s a subtle piece, globetrotting as always but arguably without the range of strands he usually weaves in. Yet it definitely picks up momentum as it goes on. The last few paragraphs, in particular, are definitely worth reading. Pegamequemegusta was very taken with his deadpan description of the line-up at the FIFA congress. While we we positively thrilled with the tale of Grondona and Platini’s encounter at the Michelangelo Towers in Johannesburg last year – the Michael Moore-style intrusion of the I is delightful, sudden and, mercifully, baseballcap-less. We also enjoyed the nugget regarding Sepp’s impressive haul of titles.

We’ve committed our usual sacrilege of chopping up some of his monstruously long paragraphs. We just can’t take ’em. Besides that, we hope the translation is readable. Enjoy or, if not, pegáme, que me gusta.

Members of the FIFA Executive Committee in Zürich this week

A FIFA Tsunami – Ezequiel Fernández Moores

“We own vicepresident of FIFA,” Karen Asche sings mockingly. “He’s the people king / De minister of everything.” In February the song Uncle Jack helped her become crowned the Calypso Monarch for 2011 in Trinidad & Tobago. The song is back in fashion already: everyone in Trinidad is talking about Jack Warner, Uncle Jack, the Minister for Work & Transport. The government is defending him, the people demanding his resignation. And he’s getting fed up.

Has something changed or do the votes of federations like Anguila, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Curaçao, Dominica, Granada, Montserrat, San Cristobal, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and the Turks & Caicos Islands no longer count? Are the votes of these twenty-five federations from the Caribbean Football Union [CFU], of which he has been the head since its creation in 1979, are they no longer relevant? Or what about the ten further votes he wields in his capacity as the president of CONCACAF, a position he’s held since 1990? “If they don’t want me around anymore, i’ll give them a football tsunami,” Warner threatened. His old mucker Sepp Blatter, who today will be re-elected as president of FIFA, was unruffled, however, as he got the congress in Zürich under way yesterday. He’s adopted the maxim of his permanent ally, the eternal president of the AFA, Julio Grondona: Todo pasa [This too shall pass]. So will the tsunami.

Blatter, FIFA president since 1998, promised he will leave office in 2015, when he will be 79 years old. He no longer needs Warner. Hence, this past Sunday he took out two birds with one stone. The Ethics Committee suspended Warner and the Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam, who was his rival in tomorrow’s elections. To this end, FIFA showed the press a photo of twenty-five envelopes containing US$40,000 each. According to the charge, Bin Hammam brought them to the Port of Spain Hyatt Regency in on the 10th of May past, where Warner doled out the envelopes amongst the CFU federations. Uncle Jack was playing both sides. On the third of May in Miami, according to his own self-incriminating declaration, he was happy for Blatter to promise a million dollars, in addition to computers and projectors, to the CONCACAF and UFC associations. Seven days later there came a million from Bin Hammam. Uncle Jack was squealed on by the American Chuck Blazer, secretary-general of CONCACAF, his right hand man for the last twenty years. The fat man in suspenders with an enormous white beard like Santa Claus, was also looking to kill two birds with one stone: Warner and the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar won at the expense of the United States.

Blazer had long been in thrall to Uncle Jack’s tricks. In 2002, when Blatter looked in danger of losing his throne, Warner lied to his courtiers telling them that he had resisted stern pressure from the challenging candidate, Issa Hayatou, from Cameroon. “Hayatou,” Warner dramatically entoned to his followers, “told me that black voters should go for one of their own, but I let him know we were independent.” Blazer told this anecdote to his former employee Mel Brennan, whom he impressed by chauffering him round Manhattan in a black limousine, including a visit to the strip club Scores, before picking up the tab with a jet black CONCACAF American Express credit card. But now Blazer has decided to distance himself from Uncle Jack. Lawyer John Collins, another former ally of Warner’s, furnished the dossier with photos and other documents confirming Bin Hammam’s brazen bribery in Port of Spain. The charges were extended to include Jérome Valcke, the secretary general of FIFA. Blazer and Valcke go way back. The American judge Loretta Preska rebuked them both in the harshest terms in a notorious case that MasterCard won against FIFA in 2006. Blatter kept them close. And together again this week, they took down Warner and Bin Hammam. The Ethics Committee was ruthless, suspending both of them and denying them the right to appeal. Enough to get them both out of the way for today’s procession.

So, Warner followed through on his threat of a ‘football tsunami’: that Blatter had given a million dollars to CONCACAF, that Valcke had sent him an email saying that Qatar had ‘bought’ the rights to hold the 2022 World Cup and that four members of the Executive Committee (one of whom was Grondona) had each received five million dollars each to vote for Qatar. All of them deny the accusations, of course. Grondona, who from Zürich yesterday confirmed his own re-election, which will take him to 36 years at the helm of the AFA, said that he would never have voted for the USA bid as it would have been “like voting for England”. In the last year, at least half of FIFA’s Executive Committee have been accused of something or other. Blatter paved the way for the scandal when, conscious perhaps of the money changing hands, he decided to up the stakes and hold the votes for the host nations for the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 on the same day. Former chairman of the English FA, David Triesman, accused four members of the Executive Committee of demanding money and/or special favours in return for their vote for England to host the 2018 tournament, which was eventually awarded to Russia. Yesterday the FA withdrew the charges. The report, nonetheless, exposes the desperate attempts by the Paraguayan Nicolás Leoz, to have an audience with Queen Elizabeth, be given a knighthood, or at least to have the FA Cup named after him. It’s understandable really: Blatter’s webpage lists 62 honorary titles, from a knighthood from the Sultanate of Pahang to the Golden Key of Johannesburg. Triesman also told how he thanked Ricardo Teixeira (president of the Brazilian football association and head of the Brazil 2014 World Cup organising committee) for Lula’s support for the English bid. “Lula’s nothing. The question is what’s in it for me,” Teixeira is said to have responded, according to page 12 of FIFA’s own report.

“So, what, are we supposed to presume that the ‘incorruptible’ Michel Platini was bribed, too? He also voted for Qatar 2022,” argues a South American source. President of UEFA, three times winner of the Ballon d’or, Platini did of course also vote in favour of a World Cup that will be played under temperatures of 50°C. And didn’t the bid also receive the backing of noted figures of football such as Josep Guardiola, Alex Ferguson and Zinedine Zidane? The English FA asked yesterday for the vote to be postponed. Only one of FIFA’s 208 associations backed the move: Scotland. The English press is leading the outcry. They cannot believe that the coverage of newspapers such as la Gazzeta dello Sport and L’Équpe consisted of no more than a couple of lines on an inside page.

It was a strange day in Zürich. In the morning, about a hundred journalists awaited a press conference with a supposed informant, who never materialised. In the afternoon, former Miss Switzerland Melanie Winiger got the FIFA Congress under way in the Hallestadion, before 1,200 guests. The first act was the 21 year old Czech juggler, Alan Sulc. But the main event featured an even more adept juggler, Sepp. Then Swiss musician Nicolas Senn played a complex-looking string instrument. The Mayor of Zürich, Corinne Mauch, hailed dearly-held FIFA ‘values’ such as ‘discipline, solidarity, and social responsibility’. And Grace Jones closed out the show singing La Vie en rose.

The scandals engulfing FIFA are, according to many experts, similar to those that in 2002 forced the IOC to clean up its act. The changes were demanded by the organisation’s sponsors, worried about negative publicity. Then again, the IOC clean-up was more ethnic than ethical: there was evidence impugning almost every country, yet action was only taken on those implicating members of Third World countries.

Andrew Jennings, the journalist whose investigations brought the FIFA scandals to light at least five years earlier than they otherwise might have been, believes that Blatter has been sufficiently damaged that he will not remain in power until 2015, when this new term ends. If in today’s elections he receives less than 160 of the 205 votes, it will be a farce. Jennings believes Blatter will look to Teixeira, not Platini, to take over at FIFA. Blatter took the French crack under his wing at FIFA but he has since increased his own power base and, increasingly, has found his own voice. In the restaurant of the five-star Michelangelo Towers, in Johannesburg, I found myself in the middle of a conversation and translated into Italian to make things somewhat more intelligible for Platini. Grondona, you see, was speaking to him in porteño [Buenos Aires patois]. Platini was the one who had to understand him. Just metres away, Blatter looked like Mick Jagger, signing autographs and posing for gawkers.

Tomorrow FIFA, which employs 387 people in its hundred million dollar bunker in Zürich, and is exempt from tax and anticorruption laws, will approve a budget which contains almost US$1,300m in cash reserves. The 2014 World Cup, O Estado reported on Monday, will leave FIFA a cool US$200m better off. Brazil, on the other hand, according to the same report, will spend some US$14,000m, a figure it will be paying off until the year 2030. Last weekend, Blatter stopped off in South Africa, whose 2010 World Cup, another smart bit of business by FIFA, left the country with a billion dollar hole in its budget. Blatter was looking for votes for his re-election campaign and headed up a conference titled ‘The Legacy of the 2010 World Cup for Africa’. In the press conference afterwards, annoyed by a question, Blatter thumped furiously on a table saying: “I won’t abide anyone in this room saying FIFA is corrupt.”

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