David Mellor: Blow the final whistle on Fifa's foul play

Our politicians should get involved in bringing some accountability to a body drunk with power and indifferent to public opinion
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The Independent Online

"You have stayed too long in this place for any good you can do. In the name of God, go!" Oliver Cromwell's contemptuous dismissal of the Long Parliament must surely be echoed by any rational person contemplating the future of Fifa following a disastrous week for the organisation.

After an elongated bid process involving hugely detailed assessments of the viability of holding the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 in the candidate countries, Fifa's executive committee opted for a nation denounced that very day on WikiLeaks as a mafia kleptocracy and a tiny desert emirate with nothing to commend it except loadsamoney.

In reaching these decisions – behind closed doors – the self-perpetuating gerontocracy that runs Fifa plainly took no notice whatsoever of its own technical reports, which had been sceptical about Russia and deemed Qatar "high risk". Apparently only three members of the 22-strong committee even asked for England's technical bid, and two of them were closely associated with bid rivals.

As a consequence, England, universally recognised as having the best stadiums, fan base, traditions and commercial wherewithal, received an insulting two votes. And for 2022, Australia, which hosted a magnificent Olympics 10 years ago, received just one vote, and the mighty United States three.

These are not rational decisions, even given Fifa president Sepp Blatter's desire to expand the football family by taking the finals to new countries. Australia has never hosted a World Cup, and would have been a far safer bet than a place where the temperatures in June are so oppressive that all the wealthy locals will be leaving for Europe just as the teams arrive, a place where alcohol is restricted and there is nothing to do. But, of course, Qatar does have thing: money. Lots of it. Enough to give Zinedine Zidane £9m just to endorse the bid. What else did it do with its chequebook? Who knows? But one has to wonder.

As for the Russians, what have they done to make that strutting little turkey cock Mr Putin so sure of victory he didn't feel the need to turn up in Zurich and bend the knee to Fifa satraps the way David Cameron and Prince William did? Again, who knows, but knowing Russia and the venality of some of Fifa's power brokers, you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.

Now that even the International Olympic Committee has cleaned up its act, hence London's 2012 success among other fair-minded and open decisions, Fifa stands alone, as an unaccountable, opaque and corrupt monument to yesterday's way of doing things. Fifa's very existence in its current form is an affront to civilised values. Behind all its fine slogans about "fair play" and "the good of the game", Fifa is an organised hypocrisy, a whited sepulchre presided over by President Blatter, a sleaze-surrounded septuagenarian who runs world football as his personal fiefdom.

He believes in a perfect democracy – one man, one vote – and he's the one man. Everything that happened last week was down to him. He is the ringmaster of the Fifa circus, and he can keep on dominating his Zurich big top because he keeps the animals well fed.

And he's seeking another term, because he likes telling women footballers to wear tighter shorts to popularise their sport and banning technological aids now commonplace in all other major sports. Besides, he won't willingly want to step down, because he knows any successor lifting the manhole covers at Fifa HQ will let out a big enough stench to encircle the globe.

All of this was known before the England 2018 bid was launched. But our dumbcluck FA and its associated hangers-on carried on regardless, forgetting Karl Marx's sage observation that history repeats itself first as a tragedy, second as farce. And we lost again, even more humiliatingly than when Germany got it.

It was a defeat so catastrophic that even the FA couldn't blame the media for ruining the bid by exposing the truth about key Fifa power brokers.

So surely the time has come to face the facts. Fifa is totally unfit for purpose, and the world's biggest game deserves better. And we must take the lead in delivering change. England gave football to the world (despite Blatter's claim on Thursday that China invented it) and now we must give the world something else – the leadership and the determination to clean out Fifa's Augean stables.

What is needed is a set of principles of democracy, openness and accountability common to most other major institutions and government action to drum up international support to force Fifa to accept change.

Sadly, our own FA is itself unfit for purpose. Rudderless, without a chairman for nine months, dominated by blazered time-servers such as our man on the Fifa executive Geoff Thompson, who has risen without trace to the top of world football without possessing a single particle of personal distinction.

Successive governments have held a pistol to the FA's head demanding reforms that didn't happen. Now it is time to pull the trigger, bringing in new leaders from outside to reinvigorate the domestic game and lead the charge abroad for the reform of Fifa. The then FA chief executive Adam Crozier embarked on this eight years ago, vigorously campaigning against the re-election of Blatter. When Blatter scraped back in, his FA successor returned to quiet compliance with his every whim.

Former Labour sports minister Dick Caborn told Radio 4 on Friday that reforming Fifa must begin at home with the FA, and of course I agree with him. This should be a cross-party matter. Caborn too, when in office, established a group of European Union sports ministers to press for changes in the European game. That coalition should be rebuilt to take on Fifa, since Uefa can't be relied upon to stand up for Western European values when confronted with third world sleaze at Fifa.

Under Lennart Johansson, if only for reasons of personal rivalry, Uefa did tackle Blatter. But under his successor, Michel Platini, whose every increasingly eccentric pronouncement suggests he headed a soggy football a few times too often in his illustrious career, Fifa gets off lightly because Platini regards himself as Blatter's prodigy. "My godfather," he once fondly called Blatter: a description which offers more insights than perhaps Platini intended.

What Fifa's graft-infested leadership has done this week is to throw down the gauntlet to civilised opinion. They don't care what they do, and they don't care what we think about what they did. They are drunk with power and adrift on a sea of unaccountability.

It's a gauntlet the British government should pick up, if only to exact revenge for the humiliation inflicted on David Cameron and Prince William in Zurich last week.

David Mellor is a former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

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