The ugly side of the beautiful game

Saturday, May 04, 2013

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FOOTBALL has the ability to excite and entrance people of various backgrounds, religious persuasions, race, class and creed like few other sports can.

Like you, we have been ensnared by its magic.

FIFA President Mr Joseph Blatter said in Panama recently that over 300 million men and women play the sport, with another 700 million more involved in it at other levels. But it impacts even more lives.

With figures like that, football is truly the world's game.

Football's social impact may be incalculable, but it's clear to us that if it touches the lives of so many in every corner of the world its integrity must be preserved, and where lost, recovered at all costs.

The ugly truth is where there's a lot of money there will likely be corruption, and at the very least, suspicion of it, even with the best integrity, compliance and oversight structure.

The sport is not only burdened by allegations of bribery, vote-buying and under-the-table pay-outs to top functionaries, but also by the monsters of racism, match-fixing and violence.

As a result, numerous probes are being conducted into all of the above, with a view to ultimately uprooting them.

We believe football is a victim of what makes it strong — its sensational global reach. For it finds its way everywhere, from the slums of Rio de Janeiro to the courtyards of the wealthy across all continents.

FIFA, in its financials ending 2012, boasts of cash reserves in excess of US$1.3 billion, with total asset accumulation of US$2.6 billion. Those are impressive figures.

At the CONCACAF Ordinary Congress in Panama recently, another sensational episode in the ongoing corruption sagas grabbed headlines. A Sir David Simmons-led Integrity Committee report made damning allegations against former CONCACAF President Mr Austin 'Jack' Warner and general secretary Mr Chuck Blazer for alleged mishandling of the sub-continental body's funds.

But in his typical flamboyant and outspoken style, Mr Warner came out swinging in proclaiming his innocence.

We have not heard from Mr Blazer in relation to the CONCACAF report, but as experience has taught, we expect him to speak at some point.

As if there's no end to it all, only this week a FIFA ethics probe into suspected bribery pay-outs to top officials involving collapsed marketing partner ISL cleared Mr Blatter of any misconduct in the affair.

However, former FIFA president, Brazilian Mr Joao Havelange, executive committee members Ricardo Teixiera and Nicolas Leoz were implicated in the findings of that probe, but they all denied the claims against them.

They have all since quit FIFA.

In the wake of all of this, we are driven to applaud CONCACAF and parent body FIFA in seeking external help in repairing their damaged image and their renewed thrust towards transparent governance, ethical rule, oversight structure and compliance.

This newspaper agrees with Mr Blatter that going forward all committees dealing with ethics, integrity and judicial matters should be elected by the congress, which would set the tone for transparent leadership.

With that said, FIFA needs to now ensure that when the ball gets rolling in Brazil next year at its showpiece — where Jamaica's Reggae Boyz hope to be numbered among the 32 competing nations — the dark clouds of the game's ugly side would have long drifted away.




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