Most people (in England at least) have been up in arms since the World Cup hosting results were announced but the question that baffles me is why are we surprised by what happened?
When you look at it, Russia winning the 2018 bid isn’t exactly a huge surprise – FIFA have made it known that they want to take the World Cup to new countries and it’s also not a secret that Sepp Blatter wants to win a Nobel peace prize at some point in his life for doing just this. Russia’s bid wasn’t that terrible, they have a good football history winning European Championships in 1960 & making the final again in ’64, ’72 & ’88 as well as finishing 4th in the ’66 World Cup (all as the Soviet Union). They have many players playing around the world and also have recent European pedigree with domestic clubs winning the UEFA Cup in 2005 (CSKA Moscow) and 2008 (Zenit St. Petersburg). People say it’s a tragedy that so many generations have missed out on seeing a World Cup in England but the Russian football fans have never seen a World Cup in their country?
However my point in this blog is to look at the fact that everyone is convinced there is something sinister going on in the background (brown envelops, oil soaked currency being passed around etc) – why is this such a surprise? Since the very early days of football controversy and murky goings on have been normal in football. Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919 was marred in controversy with the club only finishing 5th in 1914-1915 (last season before WWI) in the 2nd division yet somehow being promoted to the newly expanded 1st division (from 20 teams to 22) over teams like Tottenham, who had finished 20th in 1st division the season before (Chelsea finished 19th but were given one of the 2 new places despite technically being relegated) or Barnsley or Wolves who had both finished above Arsenal in the 1914-1915 season. Allegations (unproven) were levelled against the Chairman Sir Henry Norris that he had arranged dodgy backroom deals or out and out bribery to get Arsenal promoted but nothing was ever proven (although Norris left in 1929 under a cloud having been found guilty by the FA of ‘financial irregularities’). I’m not using this to pick on Arsenal, just an example of how even in the early days football started on dodgy dealings and shadowy happenings.
Of course it’s unfair to just pick on Arsenal here especially as nothing was ever proven but nothing will ever be proven regarding this World Cup (FIFA & Blatter to clever/experience for that) but when you look at football today it’s constantly filled with allegations and stories about managers, players and officials being corrupt or dodgy – Sam Allerdyce and the media’s favourite Harry Redknapp are two names that jump to the front when you’re talking about manager that have a grey cloud above them, George Graham of course was found guilty of taking bungs in the transfer of John Jensen . In 2006 then Luton Manager Mike Newell & then QPR manager Ian Holloway both said bungs were rife in football, Jaap Stam famously said that he was ‘tapped up’ by Sir Alex Ferguson in his auto biography and was subsequently moved on from the club. Yet the English media and fans were up in arms saying that clearly there was something fishy with the whole FIFA bidding process and that people had lied to them – no shit?! This happens every day in football, players and managers lie to the media, perform illegal tapping up by talking about other players/clubs in press conference. It’s not just in England either – Italy is a prime example with the Totonero scandals in 1980 & 1984-1986 as well as the recent Calciopoli scandal in 2006, Spain as well has its fair share of controversy with Real Madrid being perceived as having favourable treatment during the Franco regime as they were perceived as the ‘Royal Club’. Barcelona & Real Madrid recently have both been guilty of tapping up with their approaches for Cristiano Ronaldo & Cesc Fabregas (Fabregas of course joining Arsenal in controversial circumstances as well) both being made very public through the Spanish media. In Germany in 2005 there was a refereeing scandal with referee Robert Hoyzer admitting to fixing matches in the 2nd division and DFB-Pokal games. Prior to that there was a scandal in 1971 when several games were ‘fixed’ and a fair number of players and officials were handed long term bans from football as a result.
This is just a few of the examples of scandal and problems in football, if you took a look at FIFA, the so called governors of football the list of allegations against them dates back a lot further than just the Sepp Blatter regime, Sir Stanley Rous (from England) was the leader of FIFA when the Soviet Union had to play Chile in a World Cup play off in 1973 just weeks after the Pinochet led military coup in Chile. Unsurprisingly the Soviet Union didn’t want to play the return leg (they drew 0-0 in the first leg in Russia) in the Estadio Nacional in Santiago which, days before the game, had been used as a prison camp where hundreds of objectors to the military takeover were tortured and executed – the walls were scrubbed clean of the blood of Pinochet’s victims literally hours before the game was due to be played. Protest not just from the Chileans and Soviets but from FIFA members worldwide fell on deaf ears and Rous ordered the game to go ahead, unsurprisingly the Soviets didn’t turn up and Chile were awarded the game. Rous lost the election in 1974 to João Havelange which ushered in a new era away from the ‘pro western’ stance that previous FIFA presidents had taken (as the previous 6 presidents were either English or French bar Rodolphe Seeldrayers from Belgium who was in charge for less than a year) because part of the problem with Rous (and previous presidents) was he just ignored African football – and they ended up voting him out of office.
Whilst it is right for the media to question the ethics of FIFA, something the ‘FIFA Ethics committee’ seem unable to do, perhaps they should take a look closer to home before criticising FIFA – how can we criticise corruption and shady deals in football when it runs rampant through this country anyway? And how can we criticise FIFA when we have helped create the monster to start with? Blatter isn’t the first dodgy president, the ExCo panel aren’t the first dodgy voting board interested in lining their own pockets and telling fibs to delegates and won’t be the last either – until we can clean up our game closer to home we can’t criticise.
Sadly the system will not change, FIFA are just too powerful for that, which means we can do 1 of 2 things – clean up our attitude and the way we conduct ourselves in football or just not bother running for the World Cup vote again. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s a situation we are partly responsible for creating and after enjoying all the power before we now have to deal with the consequences.