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FIFA: Fixing the Fixers!

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Like millions around the world I have a special interest in sports in general and football in particular. Apart from my primary hobby of reading and writing I can stay glued — all day long — to the TV (especially weekends) watching American wrestling, boxing, tennis and soccer of course. 

Superstars like Roman Reigns, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Novak Djokovic, Lionel Messi, to mention just a few are global role models to whom many admirers look up to for inspiration and motivation. Among the sports soccer is the king given its global influence and reach. The World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world surpassing even the Olympics. It generates billions of dollars in revenue from corporate sponsors, broadcasting rights and merchandising. It takes just eleven men or women per team to play a game with the officiating referee but there are forces within and without that sometimes decide things even outside the pitch of play!

The Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) is the sport’s world-governing body. With 209 associations affiliated to Fifa today, the Zurich-based organisation has rightly been dubbed the “United Nations of Football”. Recently it organised an elective extra-ordinary congress following the evolving corruption within the system which concerns racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering over the course of 24 years. 

The presidential poll produced the 46-year old Italian, the former UEFA General Secretary, Gianni Infantino, as the new President. The former charismatic President, Sepp Blatter was forced to resign following the “Fifagate” that started sometime in May 2015. 

As Fifa President Blatter was one of the most powerful men in the world running a powerful global organisation that pumps out funds without ceasing and season. He had travelled far and wide meeting and dining with presidents, queens and kings with ease and commanded great respect for his love of the game and sacrifices for its growth around the world. He would be remembered for his remarkable contributions to the grassroot development and growth of soccer in and around the African continent.

But in May last year the glamour and glass house of Fifa was ripped open when the American federal prosecutors disclosed cases of wide-spread corruption by officials and associates connected with Fifa. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) had then swung into action and in collaboration with the Swiss authorities raided a luxury hotel in Zurich and arrested seven Fifa executives.

The investigation mostly revolved around collusion between officials of continental football bodies CONMEBOL (South America) and CONCACAF (Caribbean, Central and North America) and sports marketing executives. The sports marketing executives were holders of media and marketing rights for high-profile international competitions including the Americas’ Fifa World Cup qualifying tournaments, and show-piece tournaments like CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa América.

In the wake of the corruption scandal it was reported that in 2008 the general secretary of Fifa Jérôme Valcke was alleged to have transferred $10 million that had been given to Fifa by Danny Jordan, president of the South African Football Association (SAFA) to accounts controlled by Jack Warner, then head of CONCACAF. The payment is a key piece of the U.S. prosecutors’ indictment that accuses Warner of taking a bribe in exchange for helping South Africa to secure the right to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It equally involved the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the tiny but rich and influential Gulf state of Qatar. And the World Cup 2018 to Moscow Russia. The way and manner both countries won the bid are still eliciting recriminations bordering on corruption and kickbacks.

Near the end of May 2015, 14 Fifa executives had been indicted as investigations continued and zeroed in on Blatter and Michel Platini, the French deposed EUFA President. The United States Attorney General Ms Loretta Lynch simultaneously announced the unsealing of the indictments and the prior guilty pleas by four football executives and two corporations. Blatter and Platini were suspended in December over a £1.3m “disloyal payment” in 2011. The two today stand banned for six years from any football-related activities!

Looking back, the history of deception in Fifa never started with Sepp Blatter bit it hit its climax under his leadership. There is no doubt that the Fifa under Blatter was rotten, swimming in unaccountable billions of dollars. Corruption in sports is not new and can never end but something ought to be done to limit its pervasive influence.  However it is worth saying here that under the leadership of Blatter Fifa merely ‘industrialised’ the process of selling its own competition. The World Cup was for sale and it went to the highest bidder as it were!

The Fifa episode of corruption reminds one of the Lamine Diack scandal. The Senegal-born Diack was the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President, the governing body of world athletics that he led for 17 odd years. It was later discovered that he ran the organisation with his sons as a private estate that generated millions of dollars for dad and sons especially from Russia. Diack has been disgraced out of office but the ripples of corruption involving his two sons continued unabated. It was reported that the Russian athletics body simply paid their way out of many doping offenses.

From every indication the “Fifagate” would certainly have a knock-on effect on many affiliated confederations and federations across the world. The global football family would never be the same again! In Africa, a continent known for politico-economic corruption, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Issa Hayatou has had the honour and privilege of presiding over the Fifa affairs following Blatter’s resignation even though his CAF House in Cairo is not immuned from corruption.

There is a compelling need for a new leadership in CAF given Hayatou’s longevity and consequent abuse of power inherent in such sit-tightism. In Nigeria a combination of disorganization, mismanagement and corruption has dogged the development of the game beyond the limit it has attained thus far. The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) is still run like a mafian outfit where kickbacks and selfish aggrandisement hold sway!

Sunday Oliseh, the former Super Eagles Coach for some months, had to throw in the towel recently when he discovered how difficult it could be for one to function effectively and professionally with entrenched forces seeking every avenue to pull one down. Though he has had his own share of the blame (given his garrulity and hubris) the NFF must put the Glass House in Abuja in order in order to serve the interest of soccer-loving Nigerians.

Fifa has been demystified and the fixers within the organisation fixed for the good of the game. Those whose illicit pre-occupation it was to fix matches and event venues across the board have been put on notice that it would no longer be business as usual. Fifa can do better without the fixers! Fixing Fifa and fixing the fixers, therefore, is a welcome development. It is hoped that the new leadership in Zurich would chart a new course and put in motion mechanisms for the voted reforms to be implemented soon toward making the beautiful game (played gloriously by the likes of Pele, Maradona and Figo) fairer and better for the good of all.

We salute the investigative depth and judicial majesty of the American democratic system. We salute the emergence of the new dawn in Fifa. Now we can play the game fully convinced that something has given and a new order restored. May the best host city or team win at all times!

SOC Okenwa

soco_abj_2006_rci@hotmail.fr


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