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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Sepp Blatter must have thought that all his Christmasses, birthdays and school trips came at once on Sunday, with Mohammed Bin Hammam's withdrawal from the FIFA presidential election (which was to have been held on Wednesday) in the early hours of yesterday morning and Bin Hammam and Jack Walker being suspended by FIFA's Ethics Committee after facing bribery charges at an emergency meeting in Nyon yesterday afternoon. Blatter, meanwhile, was cleared after facing the same charges.

The BBC reported on its website that: "Mohamed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) - pulled out having been suspended by Fifa's own ethics committee over allegations that financial incentives were offered to Caribbean Football Union members." Bin Hammam pulled out before his suspension, so the report is, in fact, incorrect.

It was alleged by Chuck Blazer, Walker's underling at CONCACAF, that Bin Hammam and Walker had been handing out money to delegates at the Caribbean Football Union conference, some three weeks ago, to the tune of some 24,000 pounds (US$40,000) per person, and handed over files to FIFA detailing what went on. Not only that, but Blatter supposedly knew what was going on, and decided to remain diplomatically silent.

No matter, Blatter was exonerated, while Bin Hammam and Walker have both been sin-binned, Walker for a period of six months. Bin Hammam has thus far been restrained in his reaction, while Walker promised something akin to "a tsunami" in response to his suspension, and he blew up a storm yesterday afternoon courtesy of his brandishing a private e-mail he received from FIFA secretary-general Jérome Valcke.

The following excerpt was quoted from said e-mail on the BBC website:

"For MBH (Mohammad Bin Hammam) I never understood why he was running. If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express how much he does not like anymore JSB (Sepp Blatter). Or he thought you can buy Fifa as they bought the WC (World Cup)."

Now, there are, of course, a couple of clear-cut ways of looking at the above excerpt, and they are self-explanatory, but I will explain my opinion for those towards the back. Valcke states that it may well be a personal thing between Bin Hammam and Blatter, or that Bin Hammam thought that he had a chance to unseat the present occupier of the highest chair in world football. Or, and this is something infinitely more serious than football's equivalent of a scrap behind the bike-shed, the e-mail contains the insinuation that Qatar effectively "bought" (i.e., bribed) their way to their bid to host the 2022 World Cup being accepted.

It is not the first time that the allegation that Qatar "bought" 2022 World Cup has surfaced, and according to some in the British (read "English") media, raises questions about the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup, which was awarded to Russia.

FIFA said at the time of their decision on the bids for the two World Cups that their aim was to take the World Cup to countries which had never hosted the competition before, though many eyebrows were raised at Russia and Qater being awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively.

Since the award of the World Cups to the nations mentioned above, the English tabloid media have really been kicking up a fuss, and it seems as though many bloggers, twitterers and respondents have been doing the same. However, this subject will shortly be addressed in a future blog. The fact is, that the FA have not endeared themselves to FIFA down the years for being a little insular in their attitudes toward the organisation, and their intention to abstain from voting in a FIFA presidential election that will not now happen following Bin Hammam's withdrawal will not have helped their cause.

Now, having digressed from the subject somewhat, it is time to return to same. Valcke confirmed that the e-mailwas genuine, but also claimed that the e-mail was a joke, "a lighter way of expression by nature". Well, the last laugh will certainly not be on him, and it might well not be on Walker either, for that matter.

Valcke's statement raised the ire of those in charge of the Qatari World Cup bid, who quickly released a statement "categorically denying any wrongdoing", and, emphasising the point that they did not share Valcke's sense of humour, added that they "are urgently seeking clarification from Fifa about the statement from their general secretary."

Blatter, meanwhile, was feeling a little less jolly himself yesterday when he made a statement on the current situation, and he wasn't afraid to show it. He stated that the four ExCo members named in Lord Triesman's report to the House Of Commons on 10/5/11 had been cleared of any wrongdoing in relation to Lord Triesman's allegations of bribery and favours being sought in the run-up to the final decision being made in the World Cup 2018 bidding contest. One of the four was named was none other than Jack Walker..

He also informed those present that no evidence had been received fom the Sunday Times "or any announced whstle-blower."

During the following question-and-answer session, he decided to trot out the old "Crisis? What is a Crisis?" one-liner to a question posed by a Saudi journalist who claimed that FIFA were in crisis. A clearly irritated Blatter went on to say that "[FIFA] are not in a crisis..we are in some difficulties." Too right.

He also added that any problems should, and will, be solved within FIFA, and also had this to say: "If governments try to interfere in FIFA, then something is wrong..We will solve problems, if there are any problems, in the [FIFA] Congress." Well, there may or may not be a crisis in FIFA, but there is a growing crisis of confidence among football-lovers everywhere, it seems, judging by the reaction of many of them in fora the world over.

Towards the end of proceedings, he appealed for better communications and relations between FIFA and all sections of the media. Well, judging by what went on at yesterday's press-conference, any hope of that happening didn't last long. At times, Blatter's face reminded me of that of the former Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceaucescu when, just before Christmas 1989, he addressed the crowd in Timisoara and he realised that they didn't come to praise him, but to bury him.

But, don't take my word for it; to watch what was a wonderfully chaotic affair (all 28-odd minutes of it), please view the following link to RTÉ's Extra Video service on their website:

In between all the hoo-ha, Blatter had good news for Bosnians, Indonesians and the inhaitants of Brunei Darusalaam..and for the football-loving football public in Japan. The football authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina were informed that their suspension from FIFA was lifted, effective of 3/6/11 (they were suspended from FIFA for failing to change their system of rotating their presidency between the three ethnic groups in the country), allowing the Bosnian national side to participate in the next round of Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Brunei Darusalaam's FA changes (including the name of the national federation) were also accepted by FIFA. Indonesia, menanwhile, were also permitted to play on until 30/6/11, allowing the local federation there more time to get its own house in order.

Blatter also informed the assembled throng of journalists that the Japanese FA have also been informed that this year's World Club Championship, scheduled to be held in the country in December, will definitely go ahead after representations were made to FIFA by, among others, the JFA, the Japanese government and the Japanese Health Minister.

Today, it emerged that the FA and their Scottish counterparts have announced that they will be abstaining in tomorrow's FIFA presidential election vote, while, in a move that raised one or two eyebrows, Jack Walker appealed for all CONCACAF countries to vote for Blatter in the vote, where Blatter will stand unopposed, and not to stage any kind of protest. This raises (not begs) the question: What is the man they call "Teflon Jack" up to now?

Blatter needs to gain at least 75% of the vote to be elected, but, given the fact that it is now a one-horse race, his achieving that target would be about as big a shock as Kim Jong-Il coming top of a snap general election in North Korea.

Blatter and co might not worry too much about what sections of the world media and football's global fan-base have to say, but the news that some of FIFA's main sponsors  - Coca-Cola, Emirates Airlines, Adidas and Visa - have, throughout the day, released statements indicating their displeasure at current events at FIFA House may well prove to be far more disquietening.

As Blatter, Walker and a great many other people who walk, and have walked, the corridors of world football know, money doesn't talk - it jumps up and down in front of you while screaming in your face. The possibility that FIFA may lose what could amount to billions of dollars in sponsorship in the future may prove to be more un-nerving than anything else. The allegations made against Blatter, Walker, Bin Hammam, and others such as Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz, are still just that - allegations - though now that the aforementioned gentlemen (and a large cast of others) are all running around looking for someone to bushwhack, the allegations may become facts before too long. Certainly, allegations are beginning to seep from every pore in the body football.

But what of the Football Association and the SFA deciding to abstain from rubber-stamping Blatter remaining at the top of the football tree for another four years? The FA have lost a fair bit of credibility in footballing circles with their attitude, before, during and after the bidding process. Many dummies, rattles and assorted toys were being thrown out of prams, and not just at the FA, but also among the English media. (There is an element of hypocrisy in all of this, as the British/English tabloid media is not above indulging in corrupt/illegal practices from time to time, and, every so often, allegations of corruptions occasionally crop up in the English game.)

The proposed abstentions will come too late to prevent Blatter's re-election, but if the two associations can drum up enough support in the wee small hours and tomorrow morning, it might send a message to those at the top in FIFA that dissatisfaction with the organisation is growing. It would not be inconceivable for countries such as Australia, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and maybe even the USA (all failed bidders for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups) to contemplate abstaining. However, as stated a couple of paragraphs back, this will not cause too many sleepless nights for FIFA's bosses, certainly far less than the prospect of the organisation losing some of its top sponsors.

The word "maybe" was used in relation to the USA; don't forget, Chuck Blazer pointed the finger at Walker, Bin Hammam and two subordinates working at CONCACAF, accusing them of splashing the cash at the Caribbean Football Union congress mentioned earlier. What's in it for Chuck? Assuming the allegations are proven, Walker may finally be forced to resign from his post as CONCACAF president, leaving it vacant. In that case, the vice-president of CONCACAF would assume the position. And, who is currently CONCACAF's vice-president? Why, a certain Chuck Blazer..

Conspiracy theories abound, and have been mentioned in plenty elsewhere. This story of bribery and corruption wil run and run, and more allegations will be made. These are interesting times indeed for FIFA and Sepp Blatter. He had a very lucky day on Sunday, and he will undoubtedly have a very lucky day tomorrow. The question is, though: How many more lucky days will he have?

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