Matthew Monk


 
Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The dirty war



    Something very dirty is going on at the very heart of football. FIFA - the game's governing body and worldwide judge, jury and executioner - has erupted into open warfare. On one side stand the current president, Sepp Blatter and his acolytes (primarily Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner of CONCACAF). Massed against them stand Issa Hayatou of CAF (the only official candidate standing against Blatter at the Seoul congress on May 29), Lennart Johansson of UEFA, Dr Mong-Joon Chung of the AFC and Michel Zen-Ruffinen, the General-Secretary of FIFA.

    What is at stake is control of a worldwide business currently worth billions of dollars with seemingly unlimited potential for expansion. It is in partnership with Coca Cola, the biggest brand and soft drink in the world. The biggest and most influential car, electronic and food manufacturers on the planet court it. It is fought over by adidas and Nike - it is football in the 21st century, and it is being pulled apart.

    Blatter has been a troubled president almost since he took office in 1998. As I documented in a previous column - "Catching up with the Big Man and his Protégé" - he has been tainted by his relationship with Joáo Havelange, the previous incumbent in FIFA House. Havelange was constantly accused of corruption and financial irregularities but resisted any attempt at investigation, such was his iron grip on the organisation. Blatter ran in to trouble within weeks. Stories abounded that he had 'bribed' his way to election - 'evidence' was gathered that accused Arabian princes of delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars to delegates with votes on the eve of the vote. But Blatter fought them off - or at least pushed them out of the spotlight.

    Defeated candidate Lennart Johansson attempted to look humble and ignored the claims. Instead he went after the European delegates who had voted against him, and watched happily as men like Graham Kelly and Keith Wiseman of the English FA were loudly discredited for corruption. Coincidentally, they had been instrumental in splitting the European vote away from Johansson.

    But Johansson himself was tainted. He was then (and very much still is today) involved in a campaign of painting himself as a whiter than white, sleaze-free 'humanitarian', who desperately wanted the top job at FIFA to ensure 'democracy and transparency'. This does not wash however.

    Johansson was exposed (in great publicity) in the early 1990s as someone who used racist language openly, and with little shame. He attended a CAF congress in the early days of his UEFA tenure and was recorded using the type of language some uneducated scumbag in the Klu-Klux-Klan or Front Nationalé would happily espouse. It warrants no repetition here, but suffice to say the quotes were enough to cast doubt on his suitability for a post of international responsibility. Seeds of suspicion were planted in enough influential minds to make his candidature weaker than it should have been - especially when his already dour reputation and demeanour were added to the package he was offering.

    He realised quickly after the 1998 election that even Blatter could not have bribed his way to a 111-80 vote. 10 or 15 votes could have been 'bought' (if the accusations are to be believed that alone would have cost the un-named Prince well over $1.5 million) but anymore would have been too noticeable and has to be regarded as unlikely. So there has to be some other reason why this man who regarded himself as odds-on to beat Blatter lost. And as Johansson knew only too well, his none too pleasant past still counted against him.

    So he went quiet, and engaged Blatter in détente - both men 'pledged' to work with each other and 'agreed' that Blatter would be able to run unopposed in 2002. Then ISL and Kirch super-imploded leaving debts of billions of dollars and FIFA's marketing and television rights strategies in tatters. Huge holes appeared in FIFA's bank account over night; the first casualty was Blatter's much vaunted Club World Championship that managed one competition in Brazil and then collapsed into recrimination and accusation. FIFA was at least $30 million in debt, maybe more - a lot more.

    Blatter had previously been FIFA General-Secretary and had been promoted to the top job to help Joáo Havelange out of his own financial troubles. Then Dr Helmut Kaser, Blatter's predecessor as General-Secretary, had been sacked because he refused to allow Havelange's murky dealings in the aftermath of the totally corrupt Argentinian World Cup in 1978. And Blatter duly did his job, massaging the deals, taking control of the potentially troublesome committees that ran FIFA's bureaucracy and organising the regal court that Havelange demanded accompany him at all times.

    Blatter was so inextricably linked to Havelange that even when the Brazilian finally ran out of friends and lost control of the committees and even after Blatter had stabbed him in the back, Havelange still stood by him. It was a reluctant backing, but it was backing nonetheless. And once Havelange had worked his 'magic', Blatter had an easy path to election.

    So up stepped Michel Zen-Ruffinen as the new General-Secretary. Zen-Ruffinen was a lifelong bureaucrat, much like Blatter. A former football referee, Zen-Ruffinen joined FIFA in 1986 and worked his way up to become Blatter's deputy in the mid 1990s. Zen-Ruffinen is married, and has three children. He is also young - just 43 - and stands as a beacon for the next generation of football ruler that includes Michel Platini and Adam Crosier. Coincidentally (or perhaps by design) Zen-Ruffinen is from the same Swiss canton as Blatter, and shared many of the characteristics of his boss: loyalty, organisation, intelligence and confidentiality. And at first he happily played along.

    Zen-Ruffinen replaced Blatter seamlessly, taking over the running of the committees and even replaced him in front of the cameras, conducting the lavish draws for the youth championships and World Cup. Everything seemed to be going well - Blatter had his problems and could not appear on TV to justify himself as he had once done for Havelange, so Zen-Ruffinen did it for him. He even brought humour to the World Cup Finals draw; the world seemed to be his oyster.

    Around this time things started to go badly wrong for Blatter. Johansson had long since rescinded the 'agreement' that Blatter should run unopposed in 2002. He knew he could not beat Blatter, but if a suitable proxy candidate willing to play to the UEFA tune could be found, Johansson made it known he was only too eager to support them. There were two choices.

    First there was Dr Mong-Joon Chung of the AFC and Korean FA. He had a track record, having destroyed Havelange's wish to bring the World Cup to Japan (and Japan only) by running Korea's successful guerrilla campaign. He had a power base, being able to count on large swathes of South and Central Asia, as well as a high proportion of European delegates. He also had a prestigious industrial career at Hyundai, and the many millions it brought. In fact he had everything he could want to take on Blatter - except Johansson and those final thirty or so votes. The good doctor scared many at UEFA, especially those who did not pay even the minimal lip-service Johansson was giving to his own 'transparency and accountability' agenda. Would Mong-Joon allow UEFA to maintain its high level of autonomy and TV income, or would he push for Asia to get more? The Europeans did not trust this suave industrialist and his entourage, so they went for the other choice.

    Issa Hayatou is the president of CAF and has run Cameroonian football for a long time. He was nowhere near the competent Mong-Joon in terms of performance in front of the cameras or ability in regional and global politics, but he did have a lot of respect inside football and was an honest, clean candidate. He was affable, carried a large part of the African FIFA vote, and seemed ready and willing to stand against Blatter. And he was also an underrated political fighter, capable of matching many in the backrooms of power. But whether he had enough support to defeat Blatter was another question. That is where Johansson and Mong-Joon come in. Between them they carry enough weight to bring in enough votes to push Hayatou into Blatter's league, but whether they had enough to win was still too close to call. It was going to be a close election.

    Or was it? Blatter was totally confident of victory, even brushing off an ad hoc internal finance committee as a 'welcome step'. He looked to have something up his sleeve, something in reserve. Pelé came out in support of a man who once helped Havelange keep Pelé ostracised and out of the FIFA spotlight. Ignoring those dark days Pelé now praised Blatter as a man who had brought democracy to FIFA, and went on to eulogise the GOAL development programme that Blatter attached himself to after his election. He finished with a call to all who would listen. 'It is crucial for world football,' he said 'that Blatter continues, because what he is doing is fantastic'. Endorsements do not come more ringing than that. All over? Not quite.

    Nothing is so simple in FIFA politics. Blatter may have a lot of support in the football world, but he has few 'big name' supporters left who are willing to come out and defend him publicly. He may have Pelé, but unlike Hayatou no confederation president had so far come out in favour of him. The only such people he could rely on totally were Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner of CONCACAF - and come out in support of him they did, and then some.

    Right at the start of April, just under two months before the decisive vote, Blazer amazed the football world when he called for the resignation of Zen-Ruffinen! Many inside football knew that there had been some bad blood between the two Swiss bureaucrats for some time, but why would someone so close to Blatter call for the resignation of the FIFA General-Secretary so close to the presidential election. It was unprecedented in all the annals of football. Nothing like this had happened all through the wild Havelange years, so what brought it on now?

    Blazer claimed that Zen-Ruffinen had been soliciting for votes for Hayatou in Central America. He then went further stating that by activating another FIFA mechanism to investigate the upcoming CONCACAF presidential election (I hope your keeping up here!) Zen-Ruffinen was acting outside his remit, was interfering in CONCACAF's affairs, and should resign or be sacked. This all came about because CONCACAF president Jack Warner had refused to allow former World Cup Final referee Edgardo Codesal to stand against him in the CONCACAF vote. Blazer was fuming - he complained 'this current action by Zen-Ruffinen has stretched his credibility to the limit.'

    Suddenly Zen-Ruffinen was fighting for his political life. He had been severely criticised by a confederation, and Blatter was quick to back CONCACAF. Zen-Ruffinen was ordered to suspend the investigation, and while Blatter took no action against him, his long-term future was called into question. So he hit back, promising legal action against Blazer and Warner. Then just to make matters worse, and make the situation totally out of control, Blatter suspended the financial audit aimed at working out just how much money FIFA had lost when ISL collapsed.

    Blatter started to make allegations of leaks coming out of the committee, especially from Mong-Joon. He said that the audit could only restart once this leak was stopped, and he made few doubt that that would not be done until after the presidential election. Suddenly a potentially harmful report that could force Blatter to resign his post was removed. And he made it clear that Zen-Ruffinen would have to take the blame for all this, after all he was General-Secretary, and the General-Secretary organised all these things.

    Never in the entire 98 year history of FIFA had something this divisive ever happened. Havelange may have sacked Helmut Kaser twenty years before, but at least it had been done mainly behind closed doors and had been over and done with by the time the outside world knew much of it. Blatter had rebuked his deputy - his powerful deputy - in full view of the watching media, while at the same time Zen-Ruffinen had been actively campaigning against Blatter.

    And it was no coincidence this was happening now. Zen-Ruffinen claimed innocence, and said that serious financial irregularities had only just come to light. He had not spoken out before because he did not think anyone senior was involved. But now he changed his tune fast. He started making very serious allegations about Warner and Blatter - even Blatter's secretary got dragged into the sleaze. It was only a matter of time before the Big Man himself was implicated - Joáo was accused of fraudulently receiving thousands of dollars since Blatter took over.

    These allegations are extremely serious. Blatter is alleged to have covered up the extent to which FIFA (and world football as a whole) lost money when ISL collapsed. Zen-Ruffinen claimed that more than $300 million was wiped from FIFA bank accounts, and that Blatter was only able to account for $30 million. Worse, he alleged that Blatter was regularly paying off 'associates' for 'advisory' work to the tune of at least $5000 per month, per advisor. Zen-Ruffinen claimed no advisory work could be found to account for it. He then went on to allege that Jack Warner and his family had benefited from the Blatter regime to the tune of over $10 million - Warner had had a $9.75 million loan 'written off', while his sons had received money through the GOAL project and had received $1 million for 'internet services'.

    This level of corruption - if it is corruption - is unbelievable, and compares in size and implication to the 'bribe' Argentina paid Peru in 1978 to throw a decisive World Cup Finals match. Then that continued to unfold after the World Cup, with Havelange implicated in a financial scandal that involved convicted Argentinian war criminal Admiral Carlos Lacoste - incidentally a FIFA Vice President and good friend of Big Joáo.

    All this in itself would be bad enough for Blatter if it were not also alleged that he had been paying people to discredit his enemies in Africa, especially Hayatou supporters. This all revolves around another former referee Lucien Bouchardeau and Farah Addo one of Hayatou's main supporters. Blatter is himself personally implicated here, and he makes no secret of the fact that he paid Bouchardeau $25 000. He covers himself by saying that Bouchardeau was down on his luck and needed help. And anyway, Blatter confirmed just what the world must have already been thinking. "I'm too good a person," he said.

    All this time Johansson had been aching for a fight, sending a 14-point denunciation of the Blatter regime to every UEFA delegate pleading with them to vote for Hayatou. Blatter hit back with his own 14-point rebuttal, and said to anyone who was wiling to listen that there was a conspiracy to stop him winning the election. He still thought he was going to win though, especially as he had been touring poor countries non-stop since the campaigning had begun, promising to redistribute qualification places for the 2006 World Cup (primarily at UEFA's expense) and GOAL development money in almost every stop. He still had to be thought of as favourite for the election. Hayatou was just not looking good against him. Blatter had learnt a lot from Havelange about making promises and had used his years in front of the camera to build a charismatic - if weird - profile.

    So Johansson, Mong-Joon and Zen-Ruffinen decided to have criminal charges alleging fraud brought against Blatter. Just how he can survive this, without the Big Man and with his political advisors and friends terrified of being dragged into the mire, is anyone's guess. But just how football can be in such a state is bewildering and ludicrous. There is only one choice - and hope. Hayatou simply must win, to steal a Blatter phrase, 'for the good of the game'.

    But more than this he must root out all the sleaze and corruption, not just from Blatter and his cronies, but from UEFA and all the other confederations as well. All the confederation presidents should be sacked, not just Blatter. How can Johansson stand up as someone who believes in 'transparency and honesty' when he was caught on camera espousing racist claptrap? What about Zen-Ruffinen? Why did he only release these allegations once Blatter had abandoned him after CONCACAF accused him of politicking?

    It is a big, polluted mess that could destroy the very tournament it thrives on and all football fans love. If Blatter falls - and brings those around him down as well - then how safe can FIFA itself be? What is to stop the upcoming tournament collapsing into financial ruin or a political fiasco? Remember, the World Cup has been bought before - 1978 - and has been blighted by big business since 1974, so what is to stop it being ruined by a rudderless structure this time? Something needs to be done before it is too late, and I just hope someone can be found to do it.


 

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