Letter from the editor: Fifa scandal defiles far more than just the beautiful game


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On Thursday morning’s front page we took the liberty of describing this week’s revelations about Fifa as the “greatest scandal in sporting history”.

Two days on that still seems to me the right call. It’s not just the scale of the allegations, or their tawdry nature, that appals fans of the sport formerly known as the beautiful game; it’s the sheer mendacity and arrogance of the characters involved, whatever their ultimate culpability or otherwise.

There are at least three layers to the story: individual, corporate and global. Several of the individuals targeted by American and Swiss investigators have an unpleasant whiff about them, but none more so than the contemptible Sepp Blatter, football’s answer to King Lear.

This graceless, septuagenarian rogue has lost the confidence of the vast majority of the footballing fraternity, and whether he ends up in jail or not is very clearly a stain on the sport. The sooner he goes the better.

At the corporate level, Fifa is a ridiculous and woefully run organisation. If some good is to come of its decades of misrule, maybe it should be submitted to students of management, as an exemplary case of how to get things wrong. Everything about it, from the lack of oversight to the concentration of power in too few hands and the nonsensical “one country, one vote” rule, shows how not to govern with authority. A poorer example of corporate leadership would be hard to find.

The allegations of corruption are not yet proven, of course, but it’s not too early to say that this shows yet again what happens when vast sums of money flood into a sport that doesn’t have the institutional resilience to cope.

We saw it with the scandals afflicting Formula One a few years ago. We see it most clearly with cricket’s Indian Premier League, an astonishingly vulgar circus of bribes and bullies. And now we see it with football, which in its aggressive expansion beyond the traditional home of Europe and South America, is in danger of losing its soul.

And this is the third layer. That the World Cups under a cloud went to Russia and Qatar could hardly be more clearly a sign of the geopolitical times. The former is an assertive, nationalist superpower led by a traditional strongman and is determined to punch above its weight. The latter is a hot, tiny place gushing with oil and using those petrodollars to buy ever more of the West’s cultural heritage.

Led by a buffoon, football was humiliated this week, and the worst is yet to come. History may record the real significance of this week as another nail in the coffin of Western supremacy.