KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- The revelations of first FIFAGate in 2015 and now the level of ingrained self-serving corruption within the governing body of African football have underlined the failure down complacent decades of FIFA to reconstruct world football’s dysfunctional governing system.
Over the past decade world football’s parent body has tumbled into disgrace through its inability to control the naughty children of the confederations.
CONMEBOL and CONCACAF in south, central and north America were ravaged and savaged by money-grabbing crooks, Oceania voted itself two corrupt, successive presidents, Asia’s bank accounts were commandeered by its own supremo and now a first serious audit of CAF has cast a sharp light on an African confederation organisation which is not fit for purpose.
Never has been, many of its long-term critics would say.
The confederations are the bodies which populate the FIFA Council (formerly the executive committee).
Yet, nonsensically and unlike the national associations, the confeds are not members of FIFA.
This unanswerable irresponsibility has been allowed to continue even though it is these ungoverned bodies who not only provide the decision-making men and women but receive a minimum $12m each in annual hand-outs.
Not so much money for old rope but money for no rope at all.
FIFA has no disciplinary power over the Big Six. The best it can do is kick individual officials out the game for whatever corrupt acts emerge. Always far too late. By then the miscreants have retired comfortably on their ill-gotten gains.
This is a nonsense which Gianni Infantino – a member of the reform commission remember? – should address. Ever more urgently.
For his own sake if not for the sake of FIFA itself.
Sending secretary-general Fatma Samoura off to Africa for six months did not even scratch the surface of the issue.
How did it come to this? Easy. Through a botched reform back in the early 1950s.
Those were the days before the easy money of sponsor and TV gold, a time when a top job in the world game meant personal prestige rather than bulging offshore bank accounts.
FIFA was then a Eurocentric organisation. For instance, the congress at the 1950 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro was the first staged outside Europe. True, South America had possessed its own confederation since 1916 but that had been created out of necessity in a different era of travel and communication.
Lack of foresight
In Rio ageing French president Jules Rimet and his Belgian vice-president Rodolphe Seeldrayers paid lip-service to the concept of FIFA expansion. But they had no idea what that really meant.
For them, Africa and Asia represented a mere handful of football-backward minnows. They did not foresee the imminent wind of change which brought independence to dozens of new nations and changed the balance of football power along the way.
Three men did possess greater vision. One was FA secretary Stanley Rous, one was Italian federation general secretary Ottorino Barassi and the third was the Swiss federation president Ernst Thommen.
Rous was the most respected for bringing the British home nations back into FIFA, for securing them a FIFA vice-presidency and for resolving FIFA’s post-war financial problems with the proceeds from a representative match.
Thommen was the man behind the highly successful Swiss football pools organisation and he had the ear of Rimet and Seeldrayers.
All-change in Zurich
It was Thommen who brought in his associate Kurt Gassmann as general secretary after the retirement of worn-down Ivo Scricker in 1951; it was Thommen who brought in Hans Bangerter (later UEFA GS) as assistant; and it was Thommen who led the successful search for a new FIFA HQ overlooking Zurich.
They recognised the need for a new structure. Indeed, they and Europe’s nations began discussing it around FIFA congress at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Helsinki. They accepted that Europe needed its own federation because several African and Asian FAs had started pressing for their own continents’ access to the executive committee.
Thommen, initially, was opposed. Soon he saw sense but that original caution would cost him dear (Thommen, Rous and Barassi also then devised the Industrial Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, now the Europa League. They had the right idea but the wrong format as L’Equipe demonstrated with the simultaneous creation of the original European Champions Cup).
FIFA set up a commission to study the structural effect of expansion. An extraordinary congress in 1953 led to agreement for African and Asia representatives to join the exco. A decade later they each gained a vice-presidency too.
Rise of UEFA
By now Europe’s FAs had created UEFA and FIFA had agreed a majority presence for its delegates on the world body’s exco. That same representational right was granted in due course to the other confederation blocks. Suddenly, without noticing, FIFA had permitted its own power to be usurped. Presidential elections proved the point.
Rimet, honoured but no longer heeded, retired in 1954. Seeldrayers stepped up but died in office. The same fate attended England’s Arthur Drewry. He died in 1961 and Thommen stepped up as interim president of FIFA.
Thommen was the main man at the time. He was also president of FIFA’s World Cup organising committee and, as such, had overseen the selection of Chile, rather than Argentina, as 1962 host.
He expected to be confirmed as FIFA president. But African and Asian voters, remembering his opposition to their rise, backed Rous instead.
Ironically African and Asian votes later wrought Rous’s 1974 overthrow by Joao Havelange: Rous paid the price with his presidency for supporting apartheid South Africa on one continent and the beleaguered Chinese nationalist Taiwan on the other.
Before then Thommen and Rous had flung open the FIFA exco door to the confederations totally without preconditions.
The two men paid the price in the loss of personal power. As for FIFA, that initial failure to enshrine executive power over the confederations has proved politically and reputationally catastrophic.