It is the time for the FIFA Congress in Budapest. The agenda is dominated by anti-corruption and match-fixing items. How can you as a fan or sports journalist figure out what is going on? Here is a short primer to the issues and questions you need to ask:
The Current Situation
There is a gang of Asian match-fixers who have fixed matches in every continent and at just about every level of football from youth team matches up to the World Cup itself. I exposed their activities in The Fix. There are now over-thirty police investigations into their work around the globe: Serie A, Germany, Zimbabwe, etc. However, only one member of the gang has actually been arrested. The rest continue their business without any problems. The gang is able to do that because it has high-level political and financial protection in Asia.
There is a further problem. Because of the globalization of the sports gambling world, now almost anyone can fix a football match. We have seen this happen across Eastern Europe as the recent FIF Pro survey of professional football players shows. The epidemic of match corruption is no longer the purvey of a small group of fixers, but really any dodgy club owner or influential player can organize their own fix as part of their business model or pension plan.
The organization that governs the sport – FIFA – has absolutely no professional credibility on the issue of corruption. An extraordinarily high number of its top executives have been convicted of corruption or censored by its own ethics committee.
For the last two years, we have watched FIFA attempt to deal with these issues. They have presented us with a type of comic opera. At various times, from stage left appeared a new character in a new uniform to add a purported taste of integrity to FIFA – Sylvia Schenk, Chris Eaton, Placido Domingo, Henry Kissinger, and now, Mark Pieth. They strutted across the stage for a few brief months. They held some press conferences. They gathered lots of good sounding headlines for FIFA. Then once their usefulness was over (i.e. they tried to bring out about any real change) they exited stage right, where it all ended in tears when these poor souls realized that they had been used by an organization with a deeply entrenched culture of impunity.
However, at the Budapest Congress once again FIFA and its leader Sepp Blatter, are speaking with great gravity about the problems of corruption and fixing. They are now bringing out a series of ‘reforms’ to purportedly fight these issues.
How to understand what is going on
The trick to figuring out whether the official FIFA announcements are actually good work or more public relations, is to analyze them as you would the new manager of Doncaster Rovers (or Würzburger FV or Lierse SK or fill-in-the-name-of-whichever-obscure-team-you-would-like). On his first day in charge the manager holds a press conference and says, ‘In two-years time the Rovers will be playing Real Madrid in the Champions League.’ Now as a sports fan/journalist you would automatically question that statement, saying something like, ‘Has the team been taken over by a Russian billionaire!? Where is the money coming from to buy the players that you need? How are you going to change the culture of from a lower league team to being top of your sport in two-years?’
In its purported fight against corruption, FIFA and its cast of comic opera characters effectively do the same thing. They strut about making public pronouncements, but they never actually do anything. However, unlike the fictitious Doncaster Rovers manager, they seemingly get to do it again and again with no real questions being asked.
As the “reforms” come out of the Budapest Congress, ask these questions of FIFA:
i) What resources, money and institutional backing have you given these reforms?
ii) What concrete timetable do you have to implement them?
iii) What independent agency will hold you accountable if you do not put these reforms in place?
iv) Why have no other Asian fixers been arrested?
v) Why has no top football official lost his job for tolerating the presence of fixers in the sport for so long?
vi) Why have you not put pressure (as you did to the Brazilians to allow alcohol in the stadium) on the Thai, Malay, Indonesian and Singaporean governments to bust up the fixers and, more importantly, arrest their politically connected patrons?
vii) If you got rid of Sylvia Schenk and Chris Eaton, how do we know that the situation will be any different now? What concrete changes have you shown?
viii) Finally, when will you release the names of the FIFA executives convicted of accepting bribes by a Swiss court in the ISL case?