May 312015

Football is the most widely played and watched sport in the world. Although not as widely played in Pakistan, the many football clubs with a global profile are widely followed and the twists and turns in the Fifa story in the last week will be well known to the cognoscenti. The tale pivots around something very familiar to the people of Pakistan — corruption in high places, large sums of money being paid allegedly in bribes, and an institution that has resisted all serious attempts at reform — and which has just elected for an unprecedented fifth term a man to whom corruption appears as part of the office furnishings. Sepp Blatter was re-elected by a huge margin in an open and transparent election wherein each Fifa member had a single vote, no matter their size, wealth or global clout. This despite the fact that three days before the election, six of Fifa’s most senior executives had been arrested in their hotel rooms in Switzerland in connection with allegations of massive institutionalised fraud and corruption stretching back decades.

Allegations of corruption inside Fifa are almost as old as the organisation itself. It is a closed shop, very closed, and under Mr Blatter is running a virtual parallel universe where the usual rules relating to honesty, transparency and good governance are in suspension. Mr Blatter won because amid the swirling murkiness, Fifa has in the last decade pumped real money into developing nations’ football infrastructures, with new stadiums, artificial pitches and support for small local league clubs. He has won the unwavering loyalty of those who have benefited very visibly from Fifa largesse, and never looked at the risk of losing the election. He has claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt, but the buck has to stop somewhere Mr Blatter, and the largest scandal ever in the history of football as a global game has just landed on your doorstep. Pleading ignorance is no defence, and if Fifa is ever to regain its credibility then you need to seek your overdue retirement. Anything less and the organisation you lead is merely a travesty, a laughing stock.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st,  2015.

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