FIFA Corruption Coverage: Sports Journalism In Focus
So Sepp Blatter is gone. But as much as FIFA, the powerful organisation that controls soccer, is under the spotlight this week so the journalists covering the story are in focus. They have shown us how easy it is in the frenzy of a hugely important global event to lose sight of the truth.
For instance… right from the start it was clear that that the American investigation had proved that there was corruption in the bid process. But in no time at all journalists were slavishly quoting local politicians, in the case of the South African connection, saying the 2010 World Cup event had been given a clean bill of health by reputable international auditors. But that’s not what had been questioned in the first place.
However, there were two stories this week that stood out and that showed firstly an understanding of the real issues and that secondly displayed sound knowledge of the in-depth report released by the United States officials.
We are not sure what it says about modern journalism that one of the best reports was produced by British comedian John Oliver on his Last Week Tonight Show. Oliver used to be on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and then branched out on his own.
The satirist, who launched a scathing attack on soccer’s governing body last month, devoted his entire show to the scandal this week.
He has constantly been calling for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to step down. But in his latest show he goes further and pleads with the FIFA sponsors Budweiser, Mcdonald’s and Adidas to walk away from the organisation.
“The problem is all the arrests in the world are going to change nothing as long as Blatter is still there,” Oliver said. “To truly kill a snake, you must cut off its head — or, in this case, its asshole.”
Many of us would love to think that perhaps it was finally the pressure from a globally popular comedian appealing to big business that tipped a very reluctant Blatter over the edge.
At the start of John Oliver’s show he notes the irony that it took the FBI to do something about the alleged rampant corruption ruining FIFA. He says it’s like finding out that the frivolous blonde singer songwriter and rapper Kesha cares deeply about financial corruption.
“I don’t know what I’m more surprised by — that FIFA officials were actually arrested, or that America was behind it,” Oliver said. “It took the country that cares the least about football to bring down the people who have been ruining it. That’s like finding out that Kesha arrested a group of bankers involved in commodities fraud.”
Another welcome departure from the frenzy of football stories came from a source called The Wire, a dynamic independent organisation based in India. Their story headline says it all: “Make No Mistake, the FIFA War is Not About Football or Corruption”
The piece by Shobhan Saxena and with a Rio de Janeiro dateline, says the FBI’s move against seven FIFA officials on charges of corruption is seen by most countries as a desperate Western effort to isolate Russia and re-open the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Saxena writes:
“It’s an open secret that there is rampant corruption in football – at all levels. It’s no state secret that FIFA is run like the most private of private clubs with little public accountability. Though all football federations and officials had been aware of the American investigation into allegations of bribery, going back to 1991, nobody expected early morning raids and arrests. The raids were strategically timed, but if the purpose of the arrests was to make Blatter’s backers fall in line, it backfired. ‘It happened like an intelligence operation. Our phones were tapped. The police came to the hotel and picked these officials up as if they were being kidnapped,’ says a Brazilian football federation (CBF) official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘Why arrest them just 24 hours before the election? They were not running away. Why did the cops come with three American journalists in tow? FIFA is based in Switzerland. All its official business is done in Switzerland. How come the Americans suddenly jumped into it even as a Swiss probe in going on?’ he asked.
“As soon as news of the arrests spread among the delegates at the Zurich hotel, officials of various federations went into emergency meetings. ‘The Europeans did not have the courage to arrest anyone. So they called the Americans to force everyone to vote for Prince Ali. It was clear to us that they wanted to get rid of Blatter and put their stooge in his place,’ says the Brazilian who was in Zurich, when the drama unfolded. ‘As things turned very ugly, even those of us who had doubts about Blatter’s leadership decided to vote for him?’
“Blatter, even in his own words, is not perfect. Far from it. A smooth operator and great survivor, he has friends and enemies in equal numbers. But why has this Swiss man suddenly become a villain for Europe and the US? Has Blatter damaged the Beautiful Game more than his predecessors, who too had to bow out in disgrace, in his 17 years at the helm? Why are the Americans so interested in “cleaning up” a game that has been managed mostly by Europeans so far?
“Blatter’s main crime may not be corruption. It could be his reluctance to play geopolitical games as demanded by Europeans and Americans that has suddenly made him a villain. Blatter’s problems with the US began in 2005 when he declined the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s demand for Iran be thrown out of the 2006 World Cup as part of sanctions against the Asian country. Things became worse when the Palestinians were allowed to join the global football association. ‘While Blatter has been trying to make football bigger and better by taking it to all parts of the world, the Europeans have been worried about losing control. For Americans, the game is an instrument of their politics and Blatter became a hurdle in it,’ says the Brazilian official.”
Lastly, this story terrain changes all the time but a piece in the Daily Maverick by Antoinette Muller is worth mentioning. She picks apart in detail the news reports.
For live updates on the story of the resignation of Sepp Blatter go to The Guardian site…