Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Match Fixing: South Africa Threatened by Corruption and a Dodgy Referee

Ibrahim Chaibou. Not a name you might instantly recognise, but one worth remembering as the latest round of FIFA match-fixing allegations rocks football.

With Greece, Finland, South Korea and even Sumo wrestling in Japan under scrutiny, FIFA have now turned their gaze to a couple of bizarre games in the build-up to last year’s World Cup in South Africa.

First, as they opened the World Cup final venue at Soccer City, Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The Boys) beat Colombia 2-1 on May 27, 2010. Amid the blaring vuvuzelas, Kenyan referee Langat Kipngetich saw fit to award two penalties – one of them distinctly dodgy - to South Africa that day, leaving the Latin Americans a little irked. I seem to recall Colombia coach Hernan Dario Gomez getting quite angry about it.

Four days later, I drove up the N1 motorway through a forest of toll booths to the brand new Peter Mokabe stadium in Polokwane (once known as Pietersburg) to see Bafana Bafana take on Guatemala. Though BafBaf were ranked 92 at the time (a record low for a World Cup host nation) they contrived to win 5-0, their best-ever international scoreline. Great boost for an anxious nation that as I said when I filed this video

Strange day too. Before the game, with an old goalkeeper friend of mine Deshi Bakhtawer, who now works for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, we stopped off at the Holiday Inns in downtown Polokwane.

A strange but clearly powerful man, short in stature but big on lip, was ordering people about. I chatted to him. He told me he was the “agent” for the game. Bodyguards surrounded him. He told me how he organised such friendlies, sorted things out (for a reasonable fee, I imagine)... before driving off to the ground looking suitably self-important.

The Holiday Inns was chaotic, filled with journalists, fans, officials, players, ex-players and, unless I’m very much mistaken, the referee that night, a man called Ibrahim Chaibou, flown in from Niger.

A couple of hours later, Mr Chaibou saw fit to award two penalties to South Africa, both for handball. The first, after just 12 minutes, was a travesty. Katlego “Killer” Mphela stuck both spot kicks away. Job done.

At the time, I saw both the Colombian and Guatemalan wins (and the subsequent 2-0 win over highly-ranked Demark in Atteridgeville) as perfect preparation for the World Cup for the hosts, who started the tournament on a run of 12 unbeaten internationals. Sure, the refereeing was a little generous, but hey, Guatemala had just suffered a series of earthquakes and their players didn’t look too bothered about the result or the refereeing.

Now, just over a year on, you start to wonder. Just like seeing Bernard Tapie’s Marseille in the early 1990s or Hansie Cronje’s cricketing Proteas at the turn of the century, perhaps I was witnessing something more than met the eye.

Look closer at Mr Chaibou’s recent performances and you’ll see he was the man in charge when Bahrain beat Togo 3-0 last year. That was the day Togo put out a side of nonentities, pretending they were international footballers. Mr Chaibou saw fit to disallow five goals that day, for no other obvious reason other than to keep the scoreline respectable. Critisisms of his performance were swept under the table as the headlines focussed on the bogus Togo line-up and the actions of an agent called Wilson Raj Perumal.

But a month ago in Abuja, our whistle-happy friend Mr Chaibou was at it again. Nigeria were (surprisingly) 4-0 up against a below-par Argentina side when, according to internet bookmakers, there was a rush on betting that there would be a fifth goal in the match.

Matthew Benham, of online betting outfit SmartOdds, informs us: "With 86 minutes played the odds for [a fifth goal] were absolutely insane. But the market was effectively saying there would be no more goals."

Lo and behold, Mr Chaibou allowed nine minutes of injury time (even though the fourth official had signalled only four), then awarded Argentina a bizarre penalty. Nigerian defender Efe Ambrose clearly controlled the ball with his thigh but Mr Chaibou awarded a penalty for handball. Mauro Bosselli took the spot kick, fifth goal went in and the match ended Nigeria 4, Argentina 1. The internet gamblers were the only winners.

At the time FIFA President Sepp Blatter said there would be fair hearing on the issue adding: ''We have voted huge funds on investigations of match fixing and there will be zero tolerance on corruption.”

And that’s the last we’ve heard. Mr Chaibou remains unsuspended and free to referee at the top level. Now look, I’m not in a position to say Mr Chaibou is corrupt. I’m just pointing out that he’s been under scrutiny ever since FIFA announced on June 2 they were “studying betting patterns during the match as part of a wider ongoing FIFA investigation."

And hey, Mr Chaibou retired this year as he hits the referee’s retirement age of 45. Soon he’ll be history. But what you have to ask is: How did he get to referee that game against Guatemala? Did he really fail to notice the Togo side in Bahrain weren’t real international footballers? Why did he allow the game in Abuja to go on and on?

Match-fixing is, as we all know, as lethal to footballing credibility as performance-enhancing drugs are to athletics and cycling.

And then consider the case of Phil Setshedi, the former Bafana Bafana assistant coach, and his recent run-in with South Africa’s special police unit, The Hawks, earlier this month. Apparently Mr Setshedi was keen on seeing a team called Mpumalanga Sevutsa Stars beat Garankuwa United in their feeder division play-offs in Cape Town last month. So keen he offered a policeman, posing as the match referee, R2,000 to ensure the right result.

South African police spokesman McIntosh Polela is quoted as saying: "A member of the Hawks who posed as a match referee met up with the identified suspect at the Southern Sun Hotel in Cape Town. During this meeting the suspect offered to pay the agent in order to secure a win for Mpumalanga Sevutsa.

"Rakhange Humphrey Setshedi was granted bail of R10,000 and ordered to appear again on 9 September... he has surrendered his passport and will report to the Sandton police station twice a week.”

With Greece charging 84 football officials over corruption surrounding 54 games over the last two years, South Korea arresting five players and Mexico also investigating similar charges, South Africa is in danger of being dragged into the grey area of match-fixing.

So far SAFA have made all the right noises with spokesman Morio Sanyane insisting yesterday: "We take this opportunity to assure FIFA of our unqualified cooperation and support should they institute any form of investigation.

"Should any of our administrative members be found to have played any role in the matter, the association will, without hesitation, take appropriate action against the culprits in order to protect its integrity.

“As things stand, we want to believe that the matches under question were played in the spirit of fair play.”

As I said on South Africa's eNews television channel yesterday, so do we, Mr Sanyane, so do we.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Arsenal Will Sell Fabregas but Will Wenger Spend the Cash? Erm... No!

Sir Chips Keswick and Lord Harris of Peckham. Oh, and American “sports tycoon” Stan Kroenke, South African-born chief executive Ivan Gazidis, a very old double-barrelled Etonian chairman Peter Hill-Wood and his right-handman Ken Friar.

These are the men who will decide, over the next fortnight, whether a 24-year-old called Francesc "Cesc" F├ábregas i Soler will return to his Catalan roots at the Nou Camp in Barcelona this summer. The European champions have offered £27m, apparently Arsenal want something closer to £35m.

According to the BBC tonight, a “senior Arsenal official” says: "The offer was made formally in writing to our chief executive [Ivan Gazidis], and we said no straight away."

Asked if an improved offer might be successful, the BBC source said: "Possibly yes, and if it's enough then I expect we'll have to sell."

And long-suffering Arsenal fans, trophyless since Patrick Vieira’s shoot-out FA Cup final winner against Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium on May 21 2005, are powerless to do anything barring a Syrian/Egyptian/Libyan/Bahraini/Yemeni etc etc style uprising against the lack of democracy in football.

Even Arsene Wenger, ailing spiritual leader of the largely peaceful Gooner Popular Front, appears powerless to stop the sale of the lad eased out of the Barca camp as a 16-year-old.

Instead he will have to rely on the precocious but precarious talents of Jack Wilshere, the 19-year-old who is as quick with his tantrums and new contract demands (he was offered a new five-year deal yesterday) as he is with his defence-splitting passes.

Look, £35m for Fabregas is good business. But will Arsenal truly benefit from his long-mooted departure? Chief Executive Gazidis, born in Johannesburg on September 13, 1964, told Arsenal’s Supporters Trust earlier this month that failing on four fronts again this season (let’s not mention the Carling Cup final defeat against Birmingham City) was “not a disaster” and insisted: “I know how you feel.”

Yeah. Sure. Gazidis. Born in Joburg. Left for England aged four. An Oxford blue. Worked in the USA. As north London true Gooner as Sir Chips and his pal Lord Harris of Peckham. Or the toff Hill-Wood. They know how Arsenal fans feel, paying out of their noses for a seat in the plush but pricey Emirates Stadium, eating expensive plastic hot dogs with memories of trophy-winning winters at Highbury long forgotten. George Graham, Bertie Mee? Where are you now?

Watching Arsenal play the best football in the country but failing – largely due to a significant lack of spending – to compete with Manchester United or Chelsea year after bloody year. Last I saw, Arsenal were the 32nd biggest spenders in England since the Premier League kicked off in 1992. The top-four finishing Gunners are regularly in the relegation zone on spending. Economics suggest they should be languishing mid-table in the Championship.

But now, finally, it seems Fabregas will go. Samir Nasri is being courted by Manchester United, Gael Clichy could go to Liverpool. With those big-name departures, Wenger SHOULD get a £50m summer sale bonus to add to the alleged £60m Gazidis and his junta have set aside for new players.

So perhaps this year, Wenger won’t have to unretire 41-year-old goalkeeper Jens Lehmann after meeting him while commentating on German television. Sir Chips and his pals should make the move for Shay Given, the former Newcastle goalkeeper currently kicking his heels behind Joe Hart at Manchester City. Three years after Wenger first talked about a £12m bid for the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper.

And what about those centre-backs? Johann Djourou improved markedly last season after the departures of Sol Campbell and William Gallas, but with Laurent Koscielny failing to fill in for the long-term injury to Thomas Vermaelen, £12m Chris Samba of Blackburn might be just the tonic. Or Gary Cahill, the no-nonsense defender Bolton seem so eager to sell. Mind you, spending £17m on an England international has never been one of Arsenal’s strongpoints.

Wenger said on July 29 (that’s LAST YEAR): “I believe we need to sign at least four centre backs because we have some other players who can fill in this position but overall we are still on the search." Instead, he got hold of Sebastien Squillaci – yet another less-than-intimidating central defender - and hoped for the best.

In the midfield, the pathetic Brazilian Denilson is making wantaway noises and offering himself for sale on auction site eBay. Alex Song, ever-effective as a defender but questionable as a play-maker, must soldier on. Like captain Fabregas, Nasri’s departure appears imminent too.

There is talk of Barca’s 20-year-old Italian born dynamo Thiago Alcantara coming the other way in the Fab deal, or Ricardo Alvarez, the Argentinian from Velez Sarsfield, coming soon. But they’re only rumours.

Up front, Wenger perseveres with not-so-great Dane Nicklas Bendtner and the disappointing 2010 signing Marouane Chamakh next to Dutchman Robin van Persie, who finished last season with a flourish, while Theo Walcott continues to frighten defences with his searing burst of pace and sorry lack of product.

There’s talk of Lille’s Gervinho arriving for £10million. The dread-locked Ivory Coast striker is making all the right noises – just as Chamakh did last summer – but is he really better than Togo’s Emmanuel Adebayor, released so easily to Manchester City two seasons ago?

Michel Seydoux, president of the French double-winners, said yesterday: “We know that Gervinho is keen on Arsenal. There has been simple contact, but we have not received a concrete offer yet."

So hey, long-suffering Gooners, let’s not hold our breath. We’ve talked this summer about Gervinho, Alvarez, Alcantara, Karim Benzema, Cahill, Douglas Costa, Juan Mata, West Brom’s sharp-shooter Peter Odemwingie, Samba, Arturo Vidal.

But so far, Arsenal’s summer spending consists of Finland’s English-born Carl Jenkinson from Charlton Athletic. He’s 19 and played just nine times for the Addicks. The fee? Around £1m, “paid in stages”. Now that’s big spending!

Oh, and three youngsters called Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke and Oguzhan Ozyakup have pledged their long-term futures to Arsenal according to the club website. Woohoo.

Gazidis again: “It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players. Some new signings will be coming in and some of our existing squad will be going out. As Arsene has said, it will be a busy close season for the club.”

Tellingly though, he added: “We have a young squad and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Chances are Arsenal’s board, that cunning blend of foreign financiers and toffs, will spend as little as they can and hope for another year of big profit, presumably to pay off the Emirates Stadium. But that’s a tired excuse. If Fabregas goes, it’s time to spend big. Everyone knows it. Except Sir Chips and his fishy friends.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Lost Legacy Fund: Fifa Still Owe South Africa R550m After Record World Cup

One year after the World Cup’s big kick-off at Soccer City, South Africans are still waiting for any sign of the £50million (R550million) promised by FIFA’s 2010 Legacy Programme.

While recently re-elected president Sepp Blatter glides serenely into a fourth term in charge boasting of FIFA’s record £1.24bn (R12billion) profit from a superb 2010 tournament in the Rainbow Nation, the money he promised as a legacy after Africa’s first World Cup – which FIFA said would benefit grass roots football as well as education, health and social projects – remains unpaid.

Fund spokesman Greg Fredericks confirmed: "None of the £50million has been spent - not one cent. The money is still in Zurich. The delay is simply down to the amount of time it takes to establish legally recognised bodies for handling this amount of money."

Blatter, 75, unveiled his much-hyped fund in December 2010, insisting: "We always said the first World Cup on African soil should leave a lasting legacy. We trusted South Africa and that trust was well founded.

“Fifa are not a circus where we pitch our tent and remove them when the event is over. Fifa will leave a lasting legacy for the youth of South Africa thanks to this successful World Cup.

"This fund is also a reward for South Africans for having been such great hosts. We always said that the first World Cup on African soil should leave a lasting sports and social legacy. This trust is yet another concrete achievement in this area."

Although the £60m fund, administered by accountants Ernst and Young, is reserved for a wide range of public benefit initiatives, Blatter confirmed that only £10m had been actually been used - to build the extravagant South Africa Football Association (SAFA) building next to the Soccer City, where Spain beat Holland to lift their first World Cup last July.

South African president, Jacob Zuma said at the time: "We wanted a World Cup that would contribute to social cohesion and national pride that would enhance African solidarity and improve the country's global reputation. Our expectations were exceeded.

"Now remains the difficult but most important task of ensuring a lasting legacy and to build world-class national teams both at youth and senior level. This legacy trust is an important contribution towards that goal."

With FIFA still reeling over bribery claims surrounding Blatter’s unopposed re-election and the decision to give Qatar the 2022 World Cup, Britain’s best selling tabloid The Sun quotes shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Ivan Lewis as saying: "This is another example of poor leadership. South Africa faces many challenges and FIFA should release the money as a matter of urgency."

Labour MP Michael Dugher added: "FIFA is a shameful shambles. It made a vast sum from South Africa and has a duty to plough that money back as soon as possible."

The High Court has to rubber-stamp the setting up of a trust to decide how to distribute the remaining cash. Best estimates predict a further five-month wait for any pay-out from the Legacy fund – while the cash remains in FIFA’s Swiss bank accounts gaining interest.

The Sun also quotes lawyer Richard Spoor - representing locals in Matsafeni, where the 41,000-seater Mbombela Stadium was built on land belonging to the local people – as saying: "Even now there's no adequate water supply and the living conditions are totally unsanitary.

"The roads are unpaved and there's no proper sewage system. The conditions are unhealthy and frankly quite deplorable."

Who on earth is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A Year on from WC2010, Has the Rainbow Nation Lost It's Pot of Gold?

We’re nearly a year on from the World Cup in South Africa. Africa’s finest. Africa’s first. On Saturday it will be the first anniversary of Spain’s first ever global conquest at Soccer City over the Dutch cloggers.

Widely recognised as a success on footballing fronts, the only question left to be asked is this: Just how much did it benefit South Africans financially?

This week we have heard Johannesburg’s metro council claiming they made R7 from every rand spent on the World Cup, then the luxury hotels built for the tournament complained they were lying empty.

The FNB Stadium, formerly known as the 90,000-capacity Soccer City, claim they are going from strength to strength, while those other white elephant stadia in Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit and Polokwane lie largely idle.

A man who runs bike tours in Soweto says he’s been fully booked ever since launching his concept during WC2010 but I’ve just heard a mother claim her talented young lad can’t find a junior football club to play for in the Pretoria area.

For every South Africa claiming it was the best thing to happen to the Rainbow Nation, we hear another on the radio phone-ins claiming the nation has been ripped off. Who’s right? Can we ever be sure?

The single dominant fact, as far as one can glean from the limited information available, is that FIFA made a record $4.3billion from the event, though as we shall see, that figure varies and may just be for public consumption.

Let’s switch to pounds sterling for a simple profit-loss analysis. And it makes uncomfortable reading. According to London’s Daily Telegraph, South Africa recouped just £323m on the £3bn it spent on the event. FIFA may be laughing. South Africans should be sobbing. Bitterly.

While the World Cup unquestionably helped to boost the image of South Africa and the so-called Dark Continent in general, the Telegraph insists: “Financially it turned out to be a major disappointment”. Construction costs for venues and infrastructure amounted to £3 billion (€3.6 billion), and the government expected increased tourism would help to offset these costs to the amount of £570 million (€680 million). However, only £323 million (€385 million) were actually taken in as just over 309,000 foreign fans came to South Africa, well below the expected 450,000.

Even the little men, the local vendors around the stadium, had to disappear for six weeks – or cough up a registration fee of R60,000 (approximately to $7,888).

Michael Defteros, managing director of Headline Leisure Management who ran stadium concessions for FIFA, admits: "We didn’t make what we’d budgeted for, or hoped for. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And thankfully, we didn’t lose any money."

Optimists (particularly a report in the respected Economist magazine) suggest South Africa recouped a projected total in “direct economic value for GDP” of approximately $21.3 billion.

But given the Telegraph’s figures, published last December, unless FIFA make a monumental u-turn (perhaps the opera singer and new FIFA monitor Placido Domingo can recommend this to his president Sepptic Blatter) and offer President Jacob Zuma a share of the revenue, South Africa will make a huge loss on the deal. Can that be right?

A tournament which ran with barely a glitch, which avoided comfortably the expected pitfalls of crime, poisonous snakes, earthquakes, traffic jams and politics trumpeted by the European (and largely British) press, began and finished with glorious ceremony and gave Spain their first ever World Cup.

Okay, not everyone liked the plastic vuvuzela trumpets unique to South Africa football, but hey, nobody’s perfect. And they sold like hot-cakes.

Some might say a positive judgement was confirmed by the events of March 3, 2011, when FIFA announced they had earned $4,189 billion dollars in the financial period from 2007 to 2010.

President Blatter, re-elected for a fourth successive term without opposition last week, told "I am the happiest man to announce that the World Cup in South Africa was a huge, huge financial success for everybody, for Africa for South Africa, for FIFA.

"For the first time in FIFA's four-year accounts we are over four billion dollars."

When Blatter took over the running of the global football body in 1998, they were in less secure financial straits. But FIFA, a non-profit association under Swiss law, has blossomed since Blatter, now 75 and set to preside until 2015, took over the reins from Brazilian Joao Havelange in 1998.

According to their deputy secretary general and financial director Markus Kattner, they now have a surplus of $631 million.

And he says 87 percent of FIFA’s revenue, that’s $3.655 billion dollars, were earned from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The World Cup doesn’t just earn from ticket sales and franchise rights around the stadia. The bulk of the money comes from global broadcasting rights and and marketing or sponsorship contracts. Adidas, Visa, Emirates Airlines and Coca-Cola, all critical of the current state of FIFA before Blatter’s one-man election last week, are among the major players.

Kattner added: "The sale of television and marketing rights was more successful than expected.”

Four months after awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia and, controversially, the 2022 event to tiny Qatar – but two months before suspending Qatar’s Mohamed Bin Hammam for corruption – Blatter told us: "We are very proud we delivered the World Cup to Africa. For the first time our turnover in one year has been more than one billion dollars.

"The market trusted South Africa.”

But should South Africa have trusted FIFA? Jerome Valcke, the FIFA secretary general who forged a strong personal relationship with South Africa’s Danny Jordaan from what I saw of the pair of them last year, admits FIFA did even better in 2010 than they did in highly-developed Germany four years before.

He said: "Commercially it has been a success, we have increased our income by 50 percent since 2006 in Germany to 2010 in South Africa."

But Valcke insists the profits would be invested in African football. He said 80 percent of countries in Africa "would not have football" were it not for Fifa's funding. "If we don't have money, it means football will collapse."

He said, with more justification, FIFA received a lot of criticism for "taking over South Africa", including allegations that the World Cup was "just about money". Valcke’s verdict: "It is to protect football."

Yes, that smooth Frenchman Valcke. The man who said in that infamous “private” email last month: “Qatar cannot buy the FIFA presidency like they bought the World Cup.”

The Economist magazine offers this perspective. They reckon the World Cup alone grew the South African economy by an “astonishing” extra 0.5%, quoting Grant Thornton, a firm of accountants, who predicted overall 2010 growth of 3 percent.

Those slightly less than expected thousands of World Cup fans came, saw and enjoyed, staying on average for 18 days, attending five matches and spending R30,200 (around $4,000) each.

They say the total effect on South Africa’s economy was around R93 billion ($12.4 billion).

But hold on, FIFA is responsible only for the prize money paid to the teams along with the cost of their travel and preparation, which amounted to just $279m in Germany, where the tournament last took place, in 2006. Four years on, while raising the prize money 60 percent to $420 million, FIFA said it would contribute an extra $100m to ensure that all the facilities are ready in time.

And that’s it. Cash from television and marketing rights all go to FIFA, so does the money from ticket sales and franchise profits. South Africa had no way of checking exactly how much was leaving the country.

Potential World Cup hosts have to agree, when bidding for a World Cup, to give FIFA the right to ship foreign currency around the country untouched, untaxed, uncounted. Great when FIFA is based in Switzerland and the president is a Swiss national with access to those desperately confidential Swiss bankers.

Citi, the research arm of Citibank, said FIFA’s profit in Germany came to a far lower $1.8 billion, equivalent to 0.7 percent of South Africa’s GDP. FIFA say they will recycle much of that money into football development worldwide. But nothing goes to South Africa, despite spending an estimated at $5.29bn on stadiums, airports, motorways, accommodation, infrastructure and security.

Those profit and loss guys at Grant Thornton say South Africa spent R33.6bn, plus another R20bn on the Gautrain. They add: “Has it put us in insurmountable debt? No. Should we do it again? It’s clever to go for the Commonwealth Games next. They are a bit smaller than the Olympics, and a good test and preparation for a possible Olympics at less cost.”

More than 3.1 million people attended the 64 games, the third highest figure behind the United States in 1994 and Germany in 2006.

Some six million people watched the games in public viewing areas around the world.

FIFA said the average television audience in Spain for the final was a record 15.6 million.

Jordaan, the local force behind the World Cup, said the tournament "was an incredible moment, a dream has come true...we are very, very happy and very proud to be Africans and South Africans."

Jordaan did a great job. He deserves a crack at the CAF presidency, perhaps even the FIFA job once Blatter eventually fades in 2015, if UEFA’s Michel Platini opts out.

But how proud should South Africans be of a tournament which may have cost the Rainbow Nation their fabled pot of gold?

In a fascinating paper called World Cup Economics: What Americans Need to Know about a US World Cup Bid, Dennis Coates, PhD, Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland Baltimore Count reckons: “A study of the 1994 World Cup hosted by the United States found substantial lost output, with the final result showing that the pre-World Cup predictions were up to $13 billion off-target. Hopefully, this report will get politicians, economists, sports fans and all Americans demanding answers.

“The existing evidence of negative economic impact from other World Cups, combined with the self-interested motivation of the Bid Committee members and the lack of disclosure of the economic impact study all point to the conclusion that the US taxpayers are better off saying no to an expensive and secretive World Cup bid.”

There it is, neatly summed up in a couple of paragraphs. The only people who profit from a World Cup? FIFA and their “self interested” executives.

We may have to wait ages for a real profit and loss account of the 2010 World Cup. We may never really know how much it really helped the country, FIFA’s Swiss bank accounts are hardly open to public scrutiny.

But a year on from Soccer City’s finale, we have to ask: Apart from Bafana Bafana rising from No90 to No38 in the world and leading their African Nations qualifying group with Egypt a continent adrift, has the 2010 World Cup really profited the Rainbow Nation?

And will Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 benefit the world game... or just FIFA? I guess you know what I think.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Sepp Blatter: FIFA's re-elected emperor has clothes, but no moral fibre

Plain sailing resumes in the Sepp Blatter FIFAdom. Just about all of Zurich’s 208 representatives, three of them suspended, gathered to ease their president through stormy seas and on to a serene fourth term.

Emperor Sepptic, with clothes but no moral fibre, emerges to tell us he was “the captain of the ship”, and he would steer that stricken vessel to safety.

He’ll change the way World Cups are awarded, he’ll make FIFA so transparent we’ll be able to see right through it. As if we don’t already.

All smiles today, not like Monday night’s “elegance and respect” ranting at the world’s media. No waving of the FIFA Ethics book. This paid-up audience was his. He waffled on for ages, saying nothing, reassuring those worried executives at Adidas, Emirates Airlines and Visa. When sponsors like that get uptight, Blatter goes in to top gear, even at the ripe old age of 75.

More talk of this Ethics place. Has he ever been to Chelmsford on a Friday night?

Of course Uncle Josep was enjoying himself today. He’d just seen attempts to unseat his sizeable bottom from the football’s hottest seat fail, with a little help from what FIFA watchers might call “the little big guns”.

England’s David Bernstein was shot down in flames by Haiti, Congo, Benin and Cyprus. Hardly the big names of football or the global political stage, but important here, where money makes the ball go round.

Bernstein had done his best to satisfy the angry folks at home. After the suspended Jack “Pirates of the Caribbean” Warner had leaked FIFA big-shot Jerome Valcke’s email - the one which said “Qatar might have bought the World Cup but they can’t by the FIFA Presidency” Bernstein had quite reasonably requested a postponement of today’s one-man election.

While Germany’s Theo Zwanziger called for a review of the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, Bernstein (with a little help from arch-democrat and self-made-man Prince William in the tabloids) called for a delay, presumably so somebody more stiff-upper-lipped could have a tilt at Blatter.

Bernstein received a smattering of polite applause before the mighty voices of Haiti, Benin, Congo and Cyprus put him back in his place. “Undemocratic”, they said, “Destabilising”, “Let’s all pull together”. That sort of bunkum. Forget Ethics or Middlethex.

And then came Argentina. Never England’s greatest allies (google Malvinas and/or Hand Of God), their bloke Julio Grondona insisted: "We always have attacks - mostly with lies and with the support of journalism which is more busy lying than telling the truth."

Yup. Lies. That’s why the Sun in London this morning ran the classic “Despot the difference” with pictures of Blatter and Ghadaffi.

That’s why two executive committee members – Warner and Mohamed Bin Hammam, who so controversially “bought” that World Cup for Qatar in 2022 – are suspended.

Wasn’t Bin Hammam the one who was supposed to be competing against Blatter extending a reign which started in 1998, when Lionel Messi was a tiny young thing?

Cleary, we must all be wrong. An attempt to change the agenda failed miserably, with just two absentions (probably England and Scotland) and three suspensions to mar the unanimous vote.

But efforts to delay the actual crowning of Blatter soon failed too. This time 17 countries backed England's call and another 17 abstained. Progress. But nowhere near the 75 percent support needed to delay Blatter’s fourth presidency. A landslide 172 delegates voted for Blatter’s coronation (and continued pocket lining for the tiny nations).

Not your fault, Mr Bernstein. Like the Eurovision song contest, England are viewed as arrogant colonial bullies, and in football the envy shown towards the almighty English Premier League causes real resentment among the smaller nations.

And of course, the 2018 World Cup bid saw England garner just one real vote. After all those appearances by the hard-working, family-businessman Prince William and his humble pal Baron David Beckham. Russia ran away with it of course, despite the technical difficulties of travelling vast distances between stadia and the huge cost of building nine new stadia.

Just like Qatar really. Australia had a perfect bid. With the Sydney 2000 Olympics and 2003 Rugby World Cup, who could doubt their credentials. But Qatar, with 12 stadia within an hour of eachother, temperatures soaring above 40 degrees and no evidence of every assembling a crowd of over 15,000 for a football match, made it.

And if you want to know what the conditions are like for workers in Qatar, try

Ah, the injustice. But we little Englanders bleat too much. It will be four long years before Frenchman Michel Platini gets to make his hop from UEFA presidency to FIFA ubergruppenfuhrer.

Then the trouble really will start. Platini is no fan of the big English clubs, let alone the nation.

He wants the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United to cut back their debt to manageable levels, leaving Arsenal the only side standing in the top half of the Premier League. Hmm. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

And by then Bin Hammam and Jack Warner will be long forgotten, as will Valcke’s incriminating but “private” email).

Russia and Qatar will merrily host two difficult World Cups, FIFA will make a packet and all this will be for nought.

But it’s wrong. There is a slim chance Brazil's Ricardo Teixeira could squeeze in ahead of Platini. Me? I’d plump for Danny Jordaan, the principled, quietly-spoken brains behind South Africa 2010.

But it appears to matter little for now. Over the next four year’s Blatter will batter his bitter enemies, introducing apparent reforms and using his Swiss bank accounts to good effect.

Not a great time to be head of the FA. But not a bad time to be Haiti’s FIFA delegate.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See