Time to stop the rot at the top of international football

Despite a long overdue and hard won commitment that FIFA will finally publish the full report of its investigation into the corruption around the granting of football’s 2022 World Cup Tournament to Qatar and Russia’s bid for the 2018 Tournament, the reputation of international football’s governing body remains in tatters.

It took the resignation (17th December 2014) from FIFA’s Ethics Committee of Michel Garcia, the leading American lawyer who had conducted the investigation, to force the commitment to publish. Garcia left saying “No independent governance committee, investigator or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organisation”; and Michel Platini President of European football body Uefa backed him.

Two days later, FIFA changed its mind and agreed to publish the report to stop the haemorrhaging of reputational credibility, but it was too little too late with former England player, Gary Lineker, hitting out saying “The way everything’s run at Fifa is hugely depressing for those of us who love the game, FIFA is at an all time low.”

What is truly depressing for the millions who love the game in this country is that there is no prospect whatsoever of change at the top of FIFA. Indeed, its longstanding President, Sepp Blatter, whose character is reflected throughout the dysfunctional and unethical organisation, has also revoked his previous announcement that he would not stand for re-election to that office when his current term comes to an end. Now, we face the prospect of him being returned to office for a fifth term in 2015, consolidating his grip on world football and serving as a blockage to the fundamental reforms that all sensible observers know are essential.

His presence on the heights of the international game is so commanding, and the allegiances of his supporters so strong, that there is little chance of Blatter being successfully defeated in that election even if it is contested by an otherwise credible candidate.

Gary Lineker has suggested, quite rightly, that the only real prospect of change at the top is for the national and regional governing bodies and federations to come together to require change, but he sees little prospect of that happening saying Blatter “will be voted in again as sure as Christmas is around the corner.”

Football matters – not just in terms of national pride, but also because it is something about which millions of people care passionately, so Government cannot wash its hands of this affair. We need our Minister for Sport, Helen Grant, to be proactive in finding a way to drive change. It’s time she called in Greg Dyke of the Football Association and Jim Boyce, FIFA Vice President and President of Northern Ireland football’s governing body, to bang heads together and come up with a plan to stop the rot at the top of international football.

In the meantime, Sepp Blatter continues with his delusional approach to public relations, making Saddam Hussein’s Comical Ali look sane, in saying “The crisis has stopped because we again have unity in our government”. Yes, you fool, that’s the cause of the problem. We need challenge and dissent as does any system of governance if ethical standards are to prevail.

As I have previously suggested, if the Minister, the FA and the IFA need prodding in the right direction, then perhaps the Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport, so ably chaired by John Whittingdale, also of this parish, might build on its one day session held in July and launch a full investigation into this scandalous state of affairs and set challenges for a way forward.