Peter Corrigan: Blatter face to face with his own red card

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The Independent Online

Sepp Blatter, whose very name has the sound of someone destined to hit the pavement from a great height, is the president of Fifa and as such was named last week as the centrepiece of a list of allegations that guarantee the forthcoming World Cup finals in Japan and Korea will be approached in the company of a large dark cloud.

We had fondly imagined, naïvely no doubt, that we could march towards the land of the rising sun with our hopes enriched by the promise of the football to be witnessed when the cream of the game gathers in June.

But no. The headline alongside a picture of Blatter in the Daily Mail on Thursday asked: "Does this man lead the most corrupt regime sport has seen?" Considering the way various members of the International Olympic Committee conducted themselves during the past few decades, and how various sports have emitted varying odours through the ages, this is not a question to be taken lightly.

The IOC, it must be said immediately, look in solid and respectable shape these days. Their presence in Salt Lake City might have been due in part to the questionable morals of a past regime, but the present lot under Jacques Rogge gleam with a steely determination to create a blameless future. Whereas there has long been a touch of seediness about Fifa's wheelings and dealings, nothing as dramatically challenging has emerged previously to compare with the Mail's charges of corruption, which have been assembled by Andrew Jennings, a previous scourge of the IOC's misdoings.

We were already aware that Fifa are in deep financial trouble following the £278 million collapse of their marketing partner, ISL. It is alleged that there are further and more serious complications than that. Most serious is the claim by an African football chief that he was offered $100,000 to support Blatter in his campaign to be president in 1998. Whether or not Blatter knew of the vote-winning scheme, other African leaders have admitted receiving cash for their support.

Blatter beat his old rival Lennart Johansson by 111 votes to 80. The fact that Johansson now heads Uefa, who will be instrumental in any enquiry, is not without its piquancy. The allegations have been dismissed by Blatter as "part of a destabilisation and defamation campaign against my person that has going on for some time".

Fifa meet in May to elect a new president. Blatter had intended to stand again, but there will be much wrangling before that. A full-scale investigation and an opening up of the books for public scrutiny has been demanded. Blatter has agreed only to an extraordinary meeting of Fifa's executive committee on Thursday, when he may find himself outvoted and forced to yield to a thorough investigation.

For the sake of the game, and particularly the World Cup, to which tens of millions are looking forward, a rapid resolution of these charges is essential. The organisation which invented the red card and has launched a series of draconian measures to stamp out foul play on the field has now to prove that it is scrupulously behaved itself.

Our structure is infra dig

When our representatives return from Olympic action, as they did last week, the warmth of their welcome home depends on how much glory they have to share around. Happily, on this occasion there was plenty available for all; even for the politicians who have no shame at all when there's glad-handing to be done.

But any Government attempt to claim credit for our successes would not have survived the frank appraisal of Simon Clegg, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, who said that Alain Baxter's bronze medal was "despite the system, not because of it".

During his time in sport, Clegg has seen a year-on-year reduction in the funding for skiing and he expects to see that trend reversed now. I have an uncomfortable feeling that much of the extra money will be diverted from those who failed in Salt Lake City. Broadly speaking, the losers get less support and winners get more.

I'm not sure that this is the right way to approach the problem. If you suspect that someone has been lolling around on an Alp yodelling instead of practising hard on the slopes you are entitled to question their right to further funding. But if a sport is underperforming there may be more fundamental reasons.

After the Sydney Olympics everyone rounded on our swimmers for their lack of success. But how dare we criticise when our provision for swimming is so appalling? The city of Paris has more 50- metre pools than all of England.

It's all about infrastructure. Thanks to Salt Lake, our top skiers will benefit further from the Lottery's World Class Performance Programme, but to be a top-level skier you have to be showing promise by six years of age – and that's the level where the support needs to be greatest.

Meanwhile, the biggest recipient of Government funding last week would appear to be the former Sport England chief executive Derek Casey, who will receive a package worth £494,000 for being ousted from his job when Minister for Sport Richard Caborn took office last June.

It was a prompt action I applauded, because it was felt that Casey's centralist approach was clogging up the speedy distribution of funding to the grass roots. But nobody realised it would cost half a million quid. And little has happened to justify the expenditure. Casey's replacement, Australian David Moffett, did not take over until January and faces an enormous task to regionalise the organisation.

Nobody in the trade envies him. Someone who knows the nature of the task explained to me last week: "Taking a job in sports administration in this country is like going into the jungle. You've either got to know the environment or you've got to know the animals. If you don't know either, you will be lucky to survive."

Millennium end-games

When the FA Cup final returns to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on 4 May, the toss-up for ends will take on a strange new importance. I don't mean the normal coin-flicking that precedes a game but the one that will settle which end the rival supporters will occupy.

Generally speaking, teams coming from the north have been accommodated at the north end of the stadium while those approaching from the west have been allocated the south. Apparently, this eases the traffic flow into the city.

But in each of the eight finals held in Cardiff since Wembley closed in 2000, the team whose fans were at the north end have won. They were, in chronological order: Liverpool, who beat Birmingham in the 2001 Worthington Cup; Port Vale, who beat Brentford in the LDV Vans Trophy; Liverpool, who beat Arsenal in the FA Cup; Blackpool, who beat Leyton Orient, Walsall, who beat Reading, and Bolton, who beat Preston, all in the League play-offs; and Liverpool, who beat Manchester United in the Charity Shield.

When both teams have come from the north, the decision of who sits where is more arbitrary, but if a southern club with a superstitious nature makes it to the final there are bound to be questions raised about a virulent form of feng shui at work or even a piece of Welsh voodoo. Short of making the fans change ends at half-time, a toss-up would seem fair.

Apart from that, the first British cup final played under cover passed without adverse comment on the atmosphere or the pitch. It was a very comfortable and exciting experience.

Tottenham obviously considered the occasion less than historic but I'm told that, unlike their supporters, they weren't exactly beaming with bonhomie when they arrived. After the match, manager Glenn Hoddle didn't bother to go up to the rostrum to collect his loser's medal and, on their way out, one of their party appeared to have kicked the stadium lift and left a dent. It was the only lasting impression they made.

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