By Jack Peat, TLE Editor
On Friday, Sepp Blatter was re-elected president of Fifa to a standing ovation. His Jordanian challenger Prince Ali bin Al Hussein conceded after receiving only 73 votes, granting a fifth term to the man at the helm of an organisation besieged by corruption allegations and suffering the worst crisis in its 111-year history.
But cash isn’t the only factor behind the current turmoil.
To an outsider looking in, Fifa has become nothing more than a crooked boys club with its doors closed to the world. Since the US Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested 14 officials as part of an inquest into ‘rampant’ corruption, public perception has turned into outright vitriol.
American comedian John Oliver gave his thoughts in this video describing Fifa as “an appalling organisation” that treats “countries that host the World Cup like cash machines” as well as “practically imposing their own rule of law and generating billions of dollars, yet somehow remaining a non-profit.”
The video, which has been circulated by British viral sites such as BBC Sporf, accurately sums up the animosity in Europe. But outside British and American media, Fifa’s reputation remains intact.
Al Jazeera recently investigated Sepp Blatter’s popularity in Africa where Fifa money is being used to fund new training grounds. Crucial investment and several schemes to help young players on the continent means the recent re-election is seen as a victory for African football, with media commentators describing the election outcome as the West’s failed attempt to overthrow Africa’s long-standing friend.
It’s an attitude that is reflected elsewhere. Talking to Vivek Chaudhary in yesterday’s edition of The Guardian, Kushal Das, the All India Football Federation’s general secretary, said: “What’s being reported about Fifa and Blatter from Europe is not something that we in Indian football recognise.
“Fifa have been extremely supportive of us, without them we would be nowhere.”
In the past three years Fifa has invested £8 million in India for artificial pitches, academies and development programmes. Like in Senegal, it is a lifeline for a game that suffers from chronically poor funding.
Europe has a football heritage unlike anywhere else in the World, but as the sport becomes increasingly global in scope the continent’s powerful standing is starting to erode.
Many people outside Europe see the attacks on Blatter as a ploy by Uefa to return powers to the days when the old continent’s elite controlled the world game.
Cast your mind back to 1966 and few will remember that CAF and AFC nations withdrew en masse from the tournament because they felt unfairly represented in world football. Sixteen African nations boycotted because of a Fifa ruling that required the three second-round winners from the African zone to enter a play-off round against the winners of the Asian zone in order to win a place at the finals.
Under Blatter, Africa had its first World Cup, as did Asia and the number of World Cup places for teams from the two continents has increased from two each to five for Africa and four for Asia.
On the US side, there is the issue of global politics to debate. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has accused the US of “meddling” over Fifa arrests, saying: “This is yet another blatant attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states”. In the current Cold War-esque stand-off between the two countries, it would be remiss of us not to consider the investigation as another dig in the direction of the 2018 World Cup hosts.
John Wight, says in this article, that Sepp Blatter’s re-election is victory for democracy, adding that the assertion of the right by the US to run its writ anywhere does not apply to any other country.
“Imagine the international backlash if either Russia or China had decided to organize the arrest of citizens of another country on the territory of a third country, without first consulting the appropriate authorities of the countries in which the individuals concerned are nationals and/or citizens,” he said.
“The resulting backlash would be off the scale, especially in the US, adding more fuel to the Russophobia and Sinophobia that is already prevalent there, as well as throughout the West among its allies.”
Any illegal wrongdoing within Fifa has to be ironed out immediately, that much is axiomatic. But there is more to this current turmoil than brown envelopes.
Politics and history is the real fuel in this fire.