Forget envelopes full of cash, this is why 'Football Family' voted Blatter...
A slew of corruption allegations mean Fifa's reputation in the UK is at an all-time low, but most of the world, and their football associations, seem unconcerned. Glenn Moore explains why
Friday 03 June 2011
Sepp Blatter's landslide re-election as Fifa President caused surprise and consternation in England, but there is no great mystery to it. The "Football Family" support Blatter not because they all receive brown envelopes full of cash but because for most of the flock he has been an excellent President. Here are 10 reasons Blatter won.
1. Increased revenue, without strings attached
Fifa generates huge amounts of cash with a revenue of $4,189m over the last four-year cycle creating $1.28bn reserves. This is largely generated by television and marketing fees which have mushroomed under Blatter – TV rights for the 1998 World Cup were £115m, for 2010 £1.48bn. This has enabled Fifa to offer all 208 members a $550,000 World Cup windfall bonus on top of its generous annual "development support finance" subsidy of $250,000. How this is spent is up to the local FA, or its head. One of Mohammed Bin Hammam's main election pledges was to double this unaudited subsidy to $500,000.
2. Goal programme has built facilities worldwide
This huge financial power has enabled the largesse of the Goal programme, a Blatter brainchild. This is regarded by its critics as a front for vote-buying and, given the paucity of auditing, a licence for corruption. There may well be some truth in that. It certainly seems quite a co-incidence that the small island of Tahiti has had four projects, and also supplies one of the ExCo members, Reynald Temarii (who is currently suspended over corruption allegations). He may just be an excellent lobbyist.
What is undeniable is that Goal has led to the construction of hundreds of facilities in poor countries from artificial pitches to education centres and youth development programmes. To date there have been more than 500 projects approved in nearly 200 countries at a cost exceeding £150m. In many countries the money is spent as it should be. For example, among those who have benefited are Wales (the national training centre in the Vale of Glamorgan, $400,000 grant) and Northern Ireland (an artificial pitch in Londonderry, $400,000 grant). No-one is suggesting either FA is corrupt, but neither backed the English FA's call to postpone the election.
3. Every country counts
In many international organisations (the IMF, the G-20, even the UN with its security council) the traditional world players dominate influence. In Fifa every country counts. Germany, with 170,000 club teams and three World Cup victories, has one vote, so does Liechtenstein, with a population of 35,000 and no professional league. Both get the same $250,000 annual subsidy. For members like those from Benin, DR Congo and Cyprus, who stood up at Congress to speak against the English FA this week, it is a chance to feel as valued, and as powerful, as the big nations.
4. Growing the game across ages, sexes, formats and geography
While the FA missed out on the five-a-side boom sweeping the UK, Fifa actively embraced such off-shoots as futsal and beach football. It has increased the prominence given to age-group competitions and those catering to disabled footballers.
Sepp Blatter's suggestion that female footballers should wear skimpy shorts – as they do in beach volleyball – to gain greater attention was rightly condemned, but less highlighted is the progress the women's game has made under his stewardship. This year's women's World Cup in Germany is likely to be a huge success. Fifa also promotes U17 and U20 tournaments and the impact – in countries where women's rights are restricted – of the rise in the female game may be significant. The creation of the World Club Championship may have been a shot across the bows of the club game but it has helped develop the game at that level outside Europe.
All these ventures are largely loss-making, subsidised by World Cup profits. They also offer smaller countries, which would never be able to stage a World Cup, a chance to host a global tournament. This year Singapore, UAE, Trinidad & Tobago and Colombia are staging Fifa tournaments with Thailand, Canada, Uzbekistan, Costa Rica, Turkey, Chile, Azerbaijan and New Zealand all confirmed as future hosts.
5. It is a bulwark against the clubs
Fifa may be full of vested interests, but so is the club game. Without a powerful governing body behind it, international football would become a sideshow with its best players made unavailable by the wealthy clubs – either because they were not released, or because compensation payments would be demanded. This would especially affect the poorer FAs, largely outside the game's traditional centres, and wreck such competitions as the African Nations Cup, Concacaf's Gold Cup and the Asian Cup. The global fixture calendar, with guaranteed release of international players, is created and enforced by Fifa.
6. Prevention of government clean-ups
Fifa outlaw Government interference with local associations, and back this threat up by suspending countries in which this happens. Faced with the prospect of their national team being barred from World Cup ties, most governments back down.
This is popular among FAs as it protects them from political interference, but in practice it has also enabled inefficient or unscrupulous FAs to escape government reform – as, allegedly, in Nigeria and Poland in recent years. Incidentally, in theory the Parliamentary inquiry into the English FA could fall foul of this rule.
7. Protecting the health of players
In 1994, Fifa established a medical department, F-Marc (FIFA Medical Research and Assessment Centre), which conducts research into football-related injuries and health aspects of the game. Their findings influence Fifa policy. A large amount of detailed literature, dealing with subjects such as nutrition, hydration and female football, as well as injuries, is available on its website. The "11+" is an impressive warm-up programme, developed by Fifa experts and proven to reduce injuries.
8. Welcoming Palestine into the fold
Of those countries that care about the issue, more support the Palestinian viewpoint in the Middle East than the Israeli. Thus there is approval that, while Palestine is yet to be recognised as a state at the UN, Fifa accepted it in 1998. It subsequently helped subsidise, through the Goal programme, facilities in Gaza and the West Bank including a stadium to play home matches. Palestine competes in World Cup qualifiers. Somewhat inconsistently, Kosovo has been denied entry into Fifa until it receives recognition at the UN.
9. Expert tournament organisation
Fifa has been organising tournaments since the 1908 Olympics and now has it down to a fine art. It is not much of an exaggeration to say Fifa ran the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. This did not always go down well, some of the regulations, especially those protecting sponsors, are over the top, and Fifa expects a host country to pick up the tab for almost everything, but the tournament functioned more smoothly than anyone could have imagined. Fifa even ran the television coverage, bringing in its own staff instead of using the host nation. Fifa will bring its organisational expertise to bear in Brazil in 2014 as it does with the age-group tournaments.
10. Law changes that improved the game
Blatter's long-standing opposition to goalline technology appears to have softened after he was in Bloemfontein to witness the consequences as Frank Lampard's "goal" was not given. He remains opposed to such FA initiatives as the adoption of rugby's 10-yard dissent rule, and refuses to allow FAs to correct refereeing errors (e.g. by changing a yellow card to a red).
However, his stance has not always been as Luddite. Blatter and Michel Platini were the driving force behind many of the changes in the laws, or their interpretation, brought in since the turgid 1990 World Cup. These have focused on allowing attacking players to flourish without fear of injury (outlawing tackles from behind and two-footed tackles), reducing time-wasting (the backpass law, players having to leave the pitch after treatment for injury) and interpreting the offside law to favour goalscoring. These have clearly improved the spectacle.
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