Thursday, 28 May 2015

The FIFA arrests: a great week for football but who can stop Sepp Blatter's fifth term in office?

Just good friends: Danny Jordaan and Sepp Blatter
ANDREW JENNINGS, the investigative reporter who has spent a lifetime exposing FIFA corruption, hit the nail on the head hours after the arrest of six officials in Switzerland. His view: “A great day for football.”

While President Sepp Blatter, stubbornly attempting a fifth term in charge of the world footballing body, denies involvement as his henchmen collapse in handcuffs around him, Jennings neatly brings South Africa in to the debate, pointing out: “Perhaps it’s time to consider Danny Jordaan’s involvement. He was always full of praise for Blatter.”

FIFA’s official response in their hastily convened press conference hours after the arrests: “We go on with the election as planned. We cannot confirm how many are arrested. The World Cups in Qatar and Russia go ahead as planned.”

No doubt Blatter will attempt to describe the arrests as further proof of FIFA clearing out their corrupt element, ignoring his position as the spearhead of the Qatar bid, the chief corruptor amongst the corrupt.

And he’ll probably question the FBI’s involvement in a bizarre action which saw foreign nationals in famously-neutral Switzerland led away in chains from their 5-star hotel rooms for extradition to the United States.

But the FBI is entitled to act as the huge bribes surrounding Qatar and other World Cup bids were carried out in US dollars.

It’s not just bribes that are being look in to. Charge of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering are also on the indictment from New York. As Jennings says: “This goes back years, I’ve handed over all my documents to the FBI. At last somebody has taken action. I’ve alerted authorities in Britain, Germany and even South Africa to what has been going on, but nobody would act.”

For South Africans, this means the extraordinarily profitable 2010 World Cup will come under scrutiny as the investigation expands. We were required to sign documents during the tournament which allowed FIFA the free flow of foreign currency through our borders; the closure of businesses and roads within a mile of grounds… while South Africa is left with half-a-dozen expensive stadia dotted around the country.

Any credit Blatter gained from finally bringing the World Cup to Africa has to be weighed against what it cost the Rainbow Nation and though Jordaan – who now looks eminently suitable for his role as Nelson Mandela Bay’s fourth majory in ten years – has R350m hidden away in a FIFA Legacy Fund account, what have we really got to show for it?

Jennings happily moved the discussion on from FIFA to Issa Hayatou, who has been in charge of the Confederation of African Football even longer than Blatter has controlled the world game. He says: “I put all Hayatou’s bribes on television four years ago, hopefully this will bring him down too.”

According to FIFA: “Blatter is not dancing in his office, but he is calm.”

But the unforgettable sight of Swiss police hand-cuffing two FIFA vice-presidents in their luxury Zurich hotel where they are accustomed to coffee not coppers will not quickly disappear.

As I write, the Swiss attorney general is questioning those who voted on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup decisions. When Russia and Qatar were announced as hosts in 2010, I was still British-based but had already arrived in South Africa for the World Cup. At the time, I told listeners in Johannesburg and Cape Town that those votes were clearly bogus, the result of bribery and governments who put money before people.

For years, Blatter and his cronies, many of them living lifestyles far removed from the footballers in the tiny nations they represent, have shrugged off such allegations.

Not any more. The timing of this week’s action is classic. Seven arrests for “rampant, deep-rooted, serious corruption” cannot be laughed off. And even as the US authorities moved in, the Swiss – who have put up with Blatter’s conniving for so long – launched their own investigation in to the executive committee.

The US justice department says nine FIFA officials and FIVE executives have been indicted. Yet FIFA say none of them will be suspended for the big re-election vote. The dismiss suggestions of a re-vote over Qatar.

For 17 years, Sepp Blatter has handed out millions of non-profit-making FIFA profits in return for votes. Like so many sporting dictators – Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One springs instantly to mind – he will hang on long after retirement age, long after common sense suggests it’s time to go.

Today Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula insisted South Africa has nothing to hide, that a $10m bribe to encourage votes for South Africa 2010 was without substance. He compared the allegations to "a Hollywood movie". He may well be right.

But the investigation will touch on South Africa. Whether he likes it or not. And a quick look at football in South Africa suggests a few arrests - on match-fixing, corruption or racketeering - might come in handy.

While Danny Jordaan was duly crowned Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay yesterday, the nation was recovering from Bafana Bafana's successive COSAFA defeats against Botswana and Malawi on penalties. Attendances are down, our top clubs can't get past round one in the African Champions League and we can no longer boast a single player in the top leagues of Europe.

Our game is a mess. These allegations form a gloomy backdrop to declining standards and poor development. And we are not alone. It's high time football had a shake up, even if we have to rely on the FBI to do it.

The official statement, as expected: “FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out and wrong-doing in football… we are pleased to see the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken.”

That’s Walter de Gregorio tap dancing before the world’s media while Blatter hides himself away, claiming a sudden loss of weight and improvement in health make him suitable for another term.

But anybody who knows football knows this: the emperor has no hope. He has no clothes.