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THORNY ISSUE: Cleaning up FIFA’s act

ANDI THORNHILL, [email protected]

THORNY ISSUE: Cleaning up FIFA’s act

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JACK WARNER was right about one thing. He said if he was touched by the world governing body of football, FIFA, a tsunami would follow.

While there is no concrete evidence to prove that because he’s been kicked out of the sport and faces extradition to the United States on alleged corruption charges that the walls of the organisation are falling apart. The most recent flood of developments may have inadvertently provided the opportunity for FIFA to be purged and paved the path for a clean start.

Who could have forecast that in one fell swoop, the likes of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, its general secretary Jerome Valcke and president of UEFA, Michel Platini, would be suspended on suspicion of wrongdoing?

Not to mention that the head of the South Korean Federation, a potential presidential candidate, has received a six-year ban on corruption charges!

I believe it was the most significant week since heads were put to the block and started to roll in light of the corruption theories that surfaced surrounding the unlikely allocation of the World Cup to Russia and Qatar for 2018 and 2022, respectively.

To begin with, many were saying it was hard to believe that Blatter would not be implicated in any wrongdoing with things apparently happening right under his nose. How could he not be touched in some way with the same brush?

He had always distanced himself from the insinuations, religiously protesting his innocence, but Swiss investigators unveiled a paper trail which alleged he was in apparent cahoots with Jack Warner over under-priced television rights for the 2010 World Cup and that he had made a hefty disloyal payment to Platini for work completed in 2002 when he was a Blatter consultant but didn’t receive payment until 2011.

Arguably, that nine-year window must have raised red flags among investigators, so it wasn’t surprising then that the thought of alleged criminal activity came into play.

It wasn’t conceivable, either, for Platini to think against that background that he would remain only a witness and not be upgraded as a suspect in a case that has been built as one of dubious collusion between him and Blatter.

I don’t think the FIFA Ethics Committee had any option but to suspend both of them until the matter has been cleared up. Unsurprisingly, both have appealed the 90-day suspensions for different reasons.

Blatter, who will not be seeking another presidential term, is fighting for his reputation more than anything else and wants to leave office untarnished although there will always be suspicions about inappropriate behaviour even if in the end he is cleared of any wrongdoing. The mud is so thick that some stays on no matter how long you keep the linen in the wash.

Platini is probably more concerned about surrending his opportunity to replace his former ally in the top job. His character and reputation too are on the line because he was regarded as squeaky clean and upright until this scandal broke.

Of course, he, like Blatter and all others who are under the microscope, is innocent until proven guilty, but you still have to wonder if he would retain the same level of trust that many had placed in him before even if he goes free.

Platini was the hot favourite to win the big prize before the scandal broke but he’s bound to lose ground among the once faithful.

For instance, the Barbados Football Association and the English Football Association have stated that the former French international retains their support, pending the outcome of investigations.

Even so, it looks likely that a final decision will be made for them because it doesn’t seem possible for the matter to be resolved by the October 26 deadline for the presidential nominations.

I’m aware there could be a move by the Europeans to have the presidential election put back from February next year to give Platini time to clear his name and stay in the race.

This would be an injustice to those candidates who are in good standing but such a ploy goes to show how families close ranks to protect their own.

I hope it doesn’t happen because it might all be a blessing in disguise as the time could be right for a geographical shift in the governance of an organisation which has been dominated by Europeans and South Americans.

Such a shift could also influence a change in the working culture within the body because it would be hoped that greater transparency and accountability as opposed to fewer or no cliques at all, will give FIFA an image the world at large and big spending sponsors will be comfortable with.

Now that the beans are being spilled consistently, it may have put into perspective why football’s governing body has always operated with such autonomy, the proverbial law unto itself.

Remember, FIFA makes it illegal for any of its affiliates or individuals to settle grievances in court. Current BFA president Randy Harris and former CONCACAF vice president Lisle Austin are two Bajans who have been sanctioned by them for doing so. In light of all the dirt that is being unearthed and which clearly indicates that there is a fair share of lawlessness associated with the running of FIFA, it’s reasonable to ask what gives them the right to put such archaic statutes in place to deny individuals the right to seek justice in the court system.

The eradication of self righteousness is a big part of what is at stake as the conception of a new FIFA is in progress.

Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award winning sports journalist.