The most diabolical aspect of the FIFA election was the little stipulation in the bylaws left behind by Sepp the Devious.
The rules stipulated that any new president must have been active in world football in two of the past five years.
This guaranteed that all five candidates would be insiders, by definition.
Two years of “service” guaranteed that candidates had been in the vicinity of envelopes crammed with American bills, being slipped to some FIFA delegates. . (See: Qatar, 2022.)
Two years of recent “activity” meant that candidates had pondered – or even known -- how Chuck Blazer of New York had afforded that colorful parrot on his shoulder, or lodgings at the Trump Tower and warmer climes, and how Jack Warner of Port of Spain was able to use development money from FIF to build facilities on land belonging to him.
Normal human curiosity might have compelled any FIFA official to ponder, “Hmmm, I wonder how that guy does it.”
For all the new rules for "reform," the two-year rule guaranteed that the lords of FIFA, now under world scrutiny for the first time, could not even dream of hiring a total outsider, somebody who had never cozied up to the elegant troughs of FIFA.
Insurgent members could have gone outside the fraternity and sought out people of broader public service, like Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, or Angela Merkel, nearing the end of her third term as German chancellor. Think big.
Or they could have gone to executives from relatively clean corners of business and sports – Dick Pound of Canada and the IOC and WADA, perhaps, or Dick Ebersol, formerly of NBC, or John Skipper of ESPN, or David Stern, former NBA commissioner, or even Mitt Romney, who did a fine job cleaning out the stables of the Salt Lake City Olympic committee.
Now they have elected Gianni Infantino, whose only flaw may be that he worked with the double-digits’ worth of banned soccer “leaders,” including the suddenly free-for-lunch Sepp Blatter. This is in no way an accusation of Infantino. But if ever an organization needed a thorough hosing down, FIFA was it. And still is.
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One last note: none of this would have happened but for that annoying muckraker from the United Kingdom, Andrew Jennings, who pestered Blatter and his cohorts so much that they tried to ban him from open meetings. Jennings made a lot of charges, some of them ultimately devastatingly accurate. Well done, mate.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.