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Sports Features of Saturday, 21 July 2012

Source: Asubonteng

FIFA’s Cronyism and Favoritism Revisited

By Bernard Asubonteng

It did not come as a surprise to a large number of Fifa observers around the world after the 2012 European Nations Cup tournament held in Poland and Ukraine. Certainly, it was expected, at least by some of us that soon after the Euro 2012 games wind down, Fifa will embark on its monthly biased rituals that have come to be widely known in soccer circles as “ monthly rankings.” Perhaps the only unexpected or surprising thing about it all was the rapid-fire reaction from Fifa in stacking upfront many of the European national teams on the ranking table right after the European soccer games.
A Considerable number of soccer fans across the globe seem perplexed, wondering why a worldwide soccer body like Fifa keeps behaving as if lacking a sense of shame or credibility is a virtue in itself. Would one be far from right suggesting that most of the Fifa’s monthly rankings are partially pre-determined regardless of its claim to the contrary? As pointed out in one of the earlier writings on a similar topic by this writer, Fifa can devise all kinds of complex methodologies to appear fair, but the realities do not bear its efforts out. For how can one account for, or explain this high-level rapidity or haste by which it came out with a monthly rankings barely two weeks after the Euro 2012 soccer event?
In case you’re missing the underlying point, the Fifa rankings are supposed to be once in a month affair. This is suggestive that the rankings take into a greater account the whole statistics accumulated in the month under consideration. The Euro 2012 sports event happened between June 8 and July 1, which wasn’t really a month in itself. Yet somewhere on July 4, 2012, less than five days after the Euro Cup Fifa immediately released its latest monthly rankings with the winner Spain on top, followed by Germany, Uruguay, England, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Netherlands, Croatia, Denmark, in that order. Brazil was in eleventh position.
Let’s remember that the only Africa national team that made the first 20 was Cote d’lvoire (16th spot). The next highest ranked African team right after the almighty Euro 2012 games was Ghana pegged at a relative far position at 33rd. The fair question then is: why Fifa doesn’t rank Africa national teams higher soon after the African Cup of Nations is over just like it did European teams? Maybe the right person to answer this question is the “life-president” of CAF, Issa Hayatou, after all he is one the figure heads vice president of Fifa. If he does not have a definite answer (which perhaps is the likely) then he is a coconut-headed sports executive put in that position just to meet a numerical quota.
In fact, looking closely at the current rankings (June 2012), it is not ridiculous to infer that Fifa appears to conclude after the Euro 2012 that it is obligatory or natural (as always) to let most of the national teams from Europe form the bulk of first ten slots on its rankings. And why not, at least the Fifa’s headquarters is located in Europe. More so, the most powerful spots within the Fifa’s top decision-making body (Executive Committee) are occupied by the Europeans—the president and the general secretary.
Going through these connections on the surface, one may dismiss them as petty but a critical review of the contours of Fifa’s past rankings together with its behaviors as a whole, reveal perennial cronyism and favoritism as an unseen but integral part of the world soccer organization over the decades. It used to be an all “Brazilian or South American affair” when Fifa was led by Brazil’s Joao Havelange for 24 years, starting from 1974 up to 1998. As of now it seems like Fifa and its much-touted rankings are Eurocentric; many of Fifa’s latest rules and policies are photocopies of European soccer ideas. In other words, Michel Platini-led European Football Association has strong influence on the current Fifa’s direction.
In view of its decades-old cronyism, Fifa cannot be trusted to provide fair rankings because the leadership is notorious for “legalized” corruption and also stuck in bias, favoritism, bribery, you name it. For example, the BBC sports news (July 12, 2012) reported that Fifa finally revealed a Swiss court dossier which gave a detailed account of how Joao Havelange former president of Fifa and his former son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira, also an ex-president of Brazil football Association and the ex-member of Fifa, received at least 12.74 million Swiss francs (now $13 million) from 1992-97 in payments from Fifa’s former marketing agency ISL, which collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001.
According to the 41-page legal document, Havelange received a bribe of 1.5 million Swiss francs in 1997 (then around $1 million) when he was still Fifa president. Bribery payments “channeled ’’ to accounts connected to the two Brazil natives was in the neighborhood of 22 million Swiss francs from 1992-2000. The more troubling aspect of these news reports was that the current president of Fifa Sepp Blatter has admitted to have knowledge about Fifa officials accepting bribes and kickbacks from countries or corporations.
As one popular saying goes, the fish starts rotting from the head. Fifa’s leadership is rotten with corruption and deep-rooted favoritism. To help win back some level of credibility, including reducing the incidence of corruption, cronyism, favoritism, and what have you, the Fifa’s leadership needs a term-limit. Too much familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. It’s not surprising a great deal of fair-minded soccer enthusiasts worldwide have long lost faith in Fifa’s rankings.


The writer is based in Atlanta, GA, and he also blogs at www.globalpulpit.com. You may reach him at: comments@globalpulpit.com.