Reforms in Football: Deeper than FIFA's Mess

2015-06-07 18:58

FIFA’s dramatic unraveling can only be matched by the South African Government’s frantic (and frankly uncoordinated) response to allegations implicating local officials being complicit in bribes masked as contributions. The legitimacy of ‘Diaspora Legacy Programmes’ as a valid excuse is as dubious as the Presidential Security Upgrades Nathi Nhleko so laughingly tried to substantiate in his so called report. My favourite performer thus far would have to be our Minister of Sport, the ever irrepressible Fikile Mbalula, whose overt responses and counter-claims seem to be doing no one any favours as deeper investigations by both media and the FBI say otherwise. While it would be a relief to see the ‘Sepptic’ Blatter leave, there can be no guarantees that the sport so loved by billions can regain the respect and transparency it once feebly held onto before this mess erupted.

With so many officials visible to the masses being placed on Interpol lists and FBI warrants, other insidious characters like organized criminal gangs, bookmakers and other private individuals carry on with a business as usual swagger, unperturbed by any threats to their lucrative operations. The Russian Mob is now thought to have had something to do with the country's nabbing of the 2018 tournament, which could point to a whole other corruptive influence in the game.

Italy also has deep underground ties to football thorough mafia and business as well. More commercial 'gangsters' (to quote Mbalula) like Silvio Berlusconi have also opted to sell almost 50% of their shares in AC Milan, not long after Blatter announced he'd be resigning after a ‘special congress’. Other memorable Italian football happenings included the matchfixing debacle involving Juventus, the team hailing from the Mafia town of Turin.

The degree to which this FIFA 'special congress' initiates reform shouldn’t only rest in a complete executive overhaul but also admit to the tacit links shared with more secretive, nefarious and powerful groups. Somehow though, even if this special congress is limited to reforms in the executive structure and its processes, I still suspect that over time they would be susceptible to abuse once familiarized with by incumbent officers.

Like all other sports as well, I suspect doping is another endemic issue plaguing football. With seasons stretching into the holidays (especially the FA premier league), along with having to contend with routine international tournaments every few years, players can hardly be blamed when caught. Lance Armstrong in his will to survive, used banned substances both to keep his cancer in remission and win a few medals, with many others on the same routine of drugs and blood doping in professional cycling. I hardly expect any professional athlete to cope with the increased demands of any sport for that matter, without a little assistance, some of which is met with complicit responses by sports governing bodies. It's become an unspoken but necessary part of the game. Television Ratings, marketing and other corporate attachments depend on ever greater contests for revenue generation, as matches played with increasingly grueling intensity draw more crowds and thus, more money making opportunity.

Football as a global sport with such a huge potential for convening people from all over the world had to have been realized as a tool for hegemonic governments like the US at some point. The US Justice Department’s investigation has by now been well recognized as a geo-political stint in an attempt to cement the US imprint on yet another site it deems worthy of showcasing its dominance. I’d wager most American companies like Nike (already linked to doping), VISA and Coca-Cola among others will be spared from audits by the Attorney General’s Office, should they comply with a few [slight] fines and a reform campaign lasting a few months.

I like most, enjoy and follow the game passionately but will readily admit there are entities and practices which, unsavoury as they may be, are part of the game. I’m not advocating that they stay, but am simply stating that reforms at the top are only the start if we're to enjoy the game as its meant to be.

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