WHEN Winston Churchill marked the turning-point in the war which
was the British victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942,
he said: "Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the
end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Such was the
arrest of seven FIFA officials, taken from their suites in the Bar
au Lac hotel in Zurich on 27 May.
On one level, this was no great surprise. FIFA's bribe culture
has been a semi-open secret since 2006. In its own investigations
in 2014, the governing body of world football had conceded that its
former president João Havelange was guilty of receiving bribes in
return for broadcast rights. Most of this had been brought to light
not through criminal investigation, but through dogged
On another level, however, it represents a decisive turn in
events. Until now, FIFA has been skilled in the arts of deflection
and delay. It cost the organisation nothing to throw Havelange
under a bus (metaphorically) in 2014, since he had already been
implicated in corruption allegations by a Swiss court in 2012.
The recent arrests and indictments are the early fruits of the
first proper criminal investigation.
WITH the brass neck of a man used to getting away with it, the
FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, stood for, and won, his fifth
presidential term no more than 48 hours after the arrests. That he
could attract the support of 133 of the 209 national football
associations illustrates the complexity of the problem.
Much of Blatter's support came from the often-ignored African
associations. That he then stood down four days later will be an
encouragement to some, but I am not sure that I am one of them. As
one commentator put it, the king may be dead, but the ancient
regime is still in place.
The prospects for the reform of FIFA's internal structures look
uncertain. There is almost no consensus on what the reforms should
look like. What is more, they would have to win the support of at
least some of the national associations who have been
gerrymandering the existing processes. Even our own campaigning FA
was sucked in to trying to accommodate the bizarre demands of
various FIFA executives, including the now disgraced Jack
Changes in leadership and structure would be welcome, but they
will not in themselves hold back the forces that distort world
FIRST among these is the usually unchallenged orthodoxy that
football is now a global business. This concept has provided the
cover for lavishly living executives to go about the business of
self-enrichment for too long without scrutiny.
What FIFA does, though, is not a business: it produces nothing,
it provides few services, and adds little value. What it does is to
bestow the "gift" of a bloated World Cup, which the host nation
(and their hard-driven tax-payers) pays for and organises.
South Africa, a nation where 20 per cent of the population lives
in extreme poverty, spent £3 billion on its 2010 tournament.
Economists have estimated that it recouped perhaps ten per cent on
Yet, on the basis of the hard work done by host nations, the
global "football family" of FIFA harvests the profits from
broadcasting rights, advertising, and sponsorship ($5.7 billion in
the most recent four-year World Cup cycle, the Financial
Times reports). This is not "business": it is living by the
sweat of other people's brows.
How is it, then, that national football associations - including
our own FA - manage to persuade their governments that it is a good
idea to make a bid to host the World Cup? When the FIFA official
Domenico Scala mooted the possibility that Russia and Qatar could
lose their world cups if evidence of vote-buying were found (a big
"if"), commentators started talking about the geopolitical
For countries such as Russia and Qatar, just as with the
Olympics in Beijing and London, what is at stake is nothing less
than a kind of global legitimacy. Such sporting mega-events are the
basis for the projection of influence and "soft" power. The
continuing FBI investigation itself runs the risk of being mired in
the accusation of being politically motivated.
TO MOVE on from here, we need to recognise that it is in making
football more than it should be that FIFA has succeeded in
diminishing it. As the historian Christopher Lasch noted in The
New York Times back in 1977: "The degradation of sport . . .
consists not in its being taken too seriously but in its subjection
to some ulterior purpose, such as profit-making, patriotism, moral
training, or the pursuit of health. Sport may give rise to these
things in abundance, but ideally it produces them only as
by-products having no essential connection with the game."
The more we try to press sport in general, and football in
particular, into the service of commerce, or peace-making, or even
evangelism, the more we rob ourselves of the goods it genuinely
offers - such as freedom, joy, and play.
Now, crucially, the human costs of FIFA's bad decision-making
are coming to light. Like all corrupt institutions, I expect it has
an all-singing, all-dancing corporate social-responsibility policy,
but, when push came to shove, it awarded the World Cup to a Wahhabi
absolute monarchy that is using bonded labour to build its
So, yes, we need a change of leadership, reform of FIFA's
structures, and more transparency - but, by the time we get to the
end of this sorry process, I would be encouraged if FIFA conducted
its business with an ethos. It could do worse than to start with
the dictum "First, do no harm."
Paul Bickley is the Director of Political Programme at the
religion and society think tank Theos, and co-author of Give
us our Ball Back: Reclaiming sport for the common good (Sports
Think Tank/Theos, 2012).