Thursday, 13 July 2006

Foul! The secret World of FIFA:

Foul! The secret World of FIFA:
Bribes, Vote Riggings and Ticket Scandals By Andrew Jennings
For a football supporter, reading this book is (I imagine) like finding out that your parents are crooks. You realise that your lifestyle and values are at some level morally compromised.

If only half of what Andrew Jennings documents in Foul! is true then the much-lauded ‘football family' is rotten to the core. Among the bureaucracies of FIFA and its confederations, Kick-backs, bribery, vote rigging, and ticket laundering are commonplace.
Jennings presents a stream of examples: the case of the illicit stand-in member at the FIFA congress (her being a young woman instead of an older man went unnoticed); the tidy US$500 per diem expenses claimed by annointed FIFA representatives; CONCACAF's overlord Jack Warner funnelling World Cup tickets exclusively through his private travel company at £1,700 profit per package. The list is extensive.
All over the FIFA world easy corruption is practised by glib hypocrites.
Not much different from any other transnational corporation then! Indeed, as Jennings points out, FIFA and the IOC have a lot in common. McDonald's, Nike and most other rapacious global enterprises seem to be models for FIFA imperialism – or should that be the other way around? FIFA has a longer history than many of them.
Jennings is an award-winning investigative journalist, having exposed serious corruption in big business, Scotland Yard and the Olympic movement. His investigations need to be taken seriously.
Jennings knows the dangers of making such powerful enemies. And his method is to keep himself loud and visible. Despite the odd, veiled physical threat, he fronts up at press conferences (when he's not banned from them) and ask the blunt questions: ‘Where's the money gone, Mr Blatter?' His journalism keeps alive themes that others might have allowed to die prematurely. He endures insult and innuendo about his motives. But he will not be distracted from his quarry, FIFA CEO Sepp Blatter and his senior henchmen.
Jennings' strategy forces FIFA into trying other, less direct, means to silence him. They try unsuccessfully to coax him onto the gravy train – through bribery or soft-soaping. When that fails they resort to lawyers and the threat of legal action – all of which Jennings blithely and joyfully sidesteps.
Unfortunately, Jennings' investigative method finds itself replicated in the book's structure. Too often, he thrusts himself forward as the hero of the story, all the while alluding to his own cleverness, bravery and solid principles. Sometimes Jennings is more worried about the minutiae of the investigation than the bigger story. This paper chase has too much paper and not enough chase.
Ultimately, Foul! doesn't tell us much about the game of football, merely the corrupt state of its governance. Maybe that's Jennings' purpose; but the resultant story is monotonous and limited.
While Jennings dedicates his book to the fans of the game, he doesn't see them as major players in his story, even though they are the ones being ripped off. Their inclusion might have given the book the balance, colour and life it hasn't achieved.
Foul! Is about what happens when money in sport gets so big that the sport itself becomes the background. The past four weeks has shown us what can happen when a body like FIFA is so corrupt: the sport it governs is seen in the same light. Refereeing errors are turned by some commentators into proof of wide-scale corruption. The ascent of skillful and tactically superior teams like Italy and Brazil is translated into a pre-ordained maintenance of the status quo.
For some, tomorrow night's victor will be forever tainted by the smear of political manipulation.
Despite my reservations, this is a book that deserves to be read by all football fans – so we can understand how badly our beautiful, flawed game is run and be inspired to work out ways of taking it back from the criminals who run it.
Reviewed by Ian Syson
This review first appeared in the Age

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