Sky News and Fifa. Open debate or vested interests?

Paul Swalwell is a journalism student and football fanatic. You can catch him on Twitter at @pjs2712

The looming June 1st  FIFA presidential elections see incumbent, Sepp Blatter, face a strong challenge from the Asian Football Federation Chief, Mohamed Bin Hammam, for the top seat in the world’s biggest game. Both candidates are well placed to offer sweeping reforms to the game in light of the bad press Football’s governing body has been receiving. Blatter has tried to distance himself from the allegations of corruption plaguing FIFA, such as those made by Lord Triesman and the Sunday Times. With this in mind, the coverage of the campaign in British press has revolved around notions of transparency, anti-corruption and reform.

Sky News has been leading a campaign to introduce a live televised debate between the two candidates. The challenger, Mr Bin Hammam has cordially accepted the invite, while Mr. Blatter’s press secretary has replied via e-mail saying:

‘I will assure you to come back to you shortly.’

The debate sparks two very interesting ideas that are at play within the media portrayal of FIFA. Sky News, currently ran by BSKYB, is owned by News Corp. who just so happen to own the Sunday Times, the Sunday national that ran the sting that saw two of FIFA’s s executive committee suspended for corruption charges regarding the bids for hosting the 2018 & 2022 World Cups.

On the other hand, the News channel is also very keen to be seen as supporting open and frank discussion regarding the future direction of the game. The channel has history on its side after campaigning for live televised debates in the British elections last year. This saw the 3 leaders take to the stand as live hustings were broadcast to the nation for the very first time.

Both positions seemingly regard FIFA as a corrupt entity, and yet seek to reform through transparent discussion, while never making their editorial position clear.

The campaign has received some high-profile support come from within the British Cabinet. Sky News has reported David Cameron’s spokesperson as saying.

“Anything that allows the candidates to set out their views and plans to the football watching public would be a good thing.”

London Mayor, Boris Johnson, also towed the party line:

“This is the perfect opportunity for the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world to hear the options for running their beloved sport in the years to come.”

The difficulty for me is whether the debate will actually take place. With 13 days left till the election, finding time in two busy diaries will be difficult, if not impossible. The non-committal response from Blatter’s camp suggests that he is confident enough to avoid such a challenge to his manifesto.

Should Sky News manage to pull off the historic event it will allow them to bask in the limelight of the global press, setting in stone News Corp’s reputation as Football’s ‘king-makers’.

Rupert Murdoch: Kingmaker.

As you delve deeper into the reasoning behind the planned discussion, it seems odd that it is left to a British Satellite News Channel to try arranging a debate that will influence the agenda for a global game that affects millions of people, supporters and players alike, for the next 4 years. The fact that BSKYB has a vested interest in the British game should be enough for the two challengers to consider the legitimacy of the debate. Similarly, Sky News has to be aware of the company’s limitations as an independent editorial body. The Sunday Times sting will have caused a lot of unrest at FIFA, and the obvious links to Sky will hinder any future exposure.

What is for certain is that the game is facing a real and monumental change. Mr. Blatter seems intent on change, and Mr. Bin Hammam has promised to double funding to the 208 national bodies.

Bin Hammam said earlier this week,

“The election on June 1 could cause a tectonic movement with irreversible damage. What is at stake is nothing less than the survival of Fifa.”

With the game shifting its power base ever eastwards, the challenge to Europe’s dominance of the sport appears profound. The hyperbole used by Mr. Bin Hammam is a scare tactic. FIFA will be overhauled, yet it will be done with the help of UEFA. It is widely known that current UEFA head, Michel Platini, is expected to run for FIFA presidency in 2015, and with Sepp Blatter promising only one more term, the self-interests of the European game will be best served if Blatter gets re-elected; Platini has advised all European Football Associations to vote for the current incumbent.

As I write, The English F.A. are currently meeting to discuss their voting intention for the election. The current apathy with Mr. Blatter, who has been Chair of FIFA for the past 13 years, and their apparent distaste for Mr. Bin Hammam, will probably see the F.A. abstain from the vote on the 1st of June [now confirmed. Ed.]. Chairman, David Bernstein said:

“I don’t think it [supporting Blatter] would go down particularly well. It is a board decision, I am one of 12 members. We have three options,”

“It may be what my board decides. I have to have an open mind. I’ve got 11 colleagues who are very knowledgeable about football and we’ll hear what they have to say.”

The F.A.’s failure to secure the 2018 World Cup for England has seen the organization struggle to exert itself in anything other than office politics. The contrast of this is Sky & its parent company News Corp. Their agenda to associate and absorb themselves within the game has been so successful that the Premier League could not go on without their financial muscle. The English F.A. are already at the mercy of Sky and News Corp. How about FIFA?  If Mr. Bin Hammam is correct, and the survival of FIFA is at stake, would you like to leave the discussion in the hands of the Murdochs?

The real discussion is about the future of the game. News Corp will be there, as will FIFA. Now that’s a debate I would like to see.

Have a look around over the weekend for more goodness and don’t forget to follow @pjs2712 and @gdfeet4abigman on Twitter.

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