This week Wikileaks released the largest series of documents ever leaked for public view on to its website. These files were largely United States embassy cables, an insight into what US diplomats had been saying about the rest of the world. The result of this leak has been huge embarrassment to the US government as well as a whole range of parties who were mentioned disparagingly within the various files. Diplomacy has always been a game of wily intrigue and secrecy but the release of these documents of public statesmen raises the question of whether we have the right to know what these diplomats who are supposedly working in the national interest are saying to each other. It has led to some commentators even suggesting that the whole diplomatic game should be open and transparent.
What has this got to do with football I hear you ask. Well, the World Cup bidding process has been rumbling on this week as the competition enters it’s final stages and potential hosting countries try to entice undecided voters at the last minute. The ensuing celebrity invasion of Zurich has led to the situation where our Prime Minister, Prince William, and David Beckham have all been enlisted to support the English World Cup cause.
This is amongst calls of corruption from The Sunday Times and a documentary by Panorama. Both have shown members of FIFA to be selling their votes for cash. It has also been revealed that one of the guarantees governments have to make as part of their bid is that FIFA must be allowed to make “the unrestricted import and export of all foreign currencies to and from the UK, as well as the unrestricted exchange and conversion of these currencies into US dollars, Euros or Swiss francs”. This would mean FIFA would be exempt from our money laundering legislation. Doesn’t overly fill me with confidence.
This is also not the first time FIFA has been struck by controversy surrounding corruption charges. In 2002, Sepp Blatter’s assistant deputy and former protégé, Michel Zen-Ruffinen drew up a 30-page dossier outlining allegations of financial mismanagement within the organisation. Blatter stopped a FIFA internal investigation because confidentiality agreements were broken. Despite being cleared by Swiss authorities of any fault rumours have persisted about financial irregularities during Blatter’s premiership.
I think football is crying out for a situation similar to what happened with the embassy leaks. Not only would it give proof, once and for all over what has been happening at FIFA, it might make them answerable to everyone who is involved in the game. One commentator referred to FIFA this week as a “pseudo-papal state”. This analogy is not far wrong. Like the Vatican, FIFA has millions of footballing ‘followers’ of nearly all nationalities and ethnicities. The problem is though it has the same sort of hierarchy formed by political games. Only by revealing how they abuse their position and by exposing how far they will go to defend it will anything change.
As regards the World Cup bidding process, I do not like the bidding process but if it is to stay in it’s current form surely a bit of transparency would at least mean voters have to be careful about their behaviour. I would imagine the upper echelons of FIFA are desperately afraid of transparency; afraid of the reform it might bring, that their untouchable positions of entitlement and reward might be compromised. This can only be a good thing though for those of us who are fed up of this bloated merry-go-round.