Why Fifa’s desperate fight for credibility will go on past Sepp Blatter

The law will take its course, but the consequent vacuum of power in world football must be filled

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The Independent Football

One by one, the grandees are stripped of undeserved dignity and unthinking deference. Pretensions of privilege are replaced by protestations of  innocence or tactical admissions of guilt. They turn on one another with the viciousness of sewer rats.

The law will take its course, but the consequent vacuum of power in world football must be filled. The question is by whom, and in what context? With Sepp Blatter finally facing criminal investigation, the endgame is upon us.

Fifa, a registered charity defined as a “racketeering-influenced, corrupt organisation” by a US federal judge, is on a life-support system overseen by lawyers. It must, at the very least, be cleansed, restructured, and repopulated by those untainted by previous regimes. 

That will be a fiendishly difficult process, resistant to quick-fix solutions. Nothing can be taken for granted, since the delusion of normality, fostered by Blatter, ended when the Swiss authorities seized his computers and threatening another possible round of bad news.

The contest to succeed him as Fifa president, scheduled for February, has the noxious air of a charade. It should be postponed, since the electorate is compromised and candidates are consumed by mistrust. Blatter’s plight is Shakespearean in intensity and nuclear in its infectiousness. 

His argument that he is not “morally responsible” for the corruption of individuals in the fiefdoms of associated football confederations is typically disingenuous, since it overlooks the lack of accountability and transparency which helped create a culture of graft and self-aggrandisement.

No-one, least of all his enemies, doubts his cunning, or his instinct for survival. There was a revealing tinge of regret, and an undeniable shaft of hindsight’s insight, when he mused in May: “If two other countries had emerged from the envelope, I think we would not have these problems today.”

He was of course referring to the World Cups awarded to Russia and Qatar. It may be too late to prevent the 2018 finals being staged in Russia, where they will be as politically charged as a May Day parade through Red Square, but there are moral, logistical and sporting grounds to engineer a re-vote for 2022.

Qatar’s quest for influence and  so-called “soft power” through sport has been an unmitigated disaster. Their wealth is resented. Incrimination, in the form of association with bribery on a global scale, stalls internal reform because it allows traditionalists to promulgate myths of western racism and elitism.  

Michel Platini was compromised by his links to the emirate even before Friday night’s bombshell that he had allegedly been paid £1.3m by Blatter for work done between 1999 and 2002. This was characterised, literally, as “disloyal management” by Swiss investigators, who are entitled to query the nine-year delay in payment for what the Uefa president describes as  “a Fifa contract”.

Platini, who stresses his willingness to co-operate, has pursued power relentlessly as a Blatter protégé. He emerged as a key ally in the 1998 presidential election, and turned on him only after apparent promises of retirement, made in the aftermath of the 2011 contest, were reneged upon.

The latest developments threaten to make him unelectable. The delicacy of his situation certainly embarrasses FA chairman Greg Dyke. His comments about their “good relationship” and his hope Platini “can lead a new Fifa” have been exposed as premature and  utterly naïve.

The FBI will, indirectly, decide football’s future. Though there will doubtlessly be time bombs hidden in the equivalent of 100,000,000 A4 pages of data extracted from Fifa’s headquarters, the extradition processes, stalking the likes of Jack Warner, are likely to involve seismic shifts of allegiance.

The greatest irony of all is that Fifa can run itself for a while, provided minor functionaries do their job efficiently. For all their grandiose posturing, and their self-parodic insistence that they, alone, are guardians of the game’s conscience, the men at the top are expendable.

Their downfall, and subsequent disgrace, will be a thing of beauty  and wonder.

A boxer’s softer side

A world championship boxing belt, garish gold offset by red leather, is spread across pristine white pillows. Further down the bed, a baby boy lies, his legs aloft, mouth open and eyes closed in a pose of vulnerability and abandon.

“It was never about me” is the caption to a photograph posted on social media by the child’s father, former world middleweight champion Darren Barker. It is an arresting image, which captures the underlying tenderness  of “A Dazzling Darkness”, his newly published autobiography.

Barker’s story, seen through the prism of retirement, is a study of grief and redemption, inner strength and susceptibility to fate. It binds four men, through faith, frailty and ultimate fulfilment.  

Barker dedicated his career to his younger brother Gary, a more naturally talented boxer who died in a motorway car crash at the age of 19. He rationalised his rage and guilt through Bruce Lloyd, a therapist who uses pain as part of the healing process.

They were introduced by Bryn Robertson, a successful businessman whose sporting ambitions were wrecked by drugs and alcohol. Barker was trained by Tony Sims, a fellow Christian who related to the fighter’s emptiness because of the suicide of  his sister. 

Robertson crystallises the book’s timely message: “I believe the hardest men in the world feel the most. They can look tough on the outside but inside they hurt as well.”

Barker talks of the heightened state in which he fought. His is a profound, often bleak, trade, leavened by feeling for the fellow man: “When you see the oxygen mask over an opponent’s face, your humanity kicks in,” he says. “You catch yourself thinking he’s no longer someone to hurt but a human being. He’s got family.” 

The baby in the picture, Charlie, has just celebrated his first birthday. He will have much to be proud of as he grows up in an imperfect world.

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