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Never mind Saint Sepp, the system is to blame


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For those of you slightly confused or even overwhelmed by the stories emerging from FIFA headquarters in Zurich this week, we understand your pain. Fasten your seatbelts and let us try to tell you what is at stake.


On Wednesday the body which runs world football, FIFA, will vote for its new president. The incumbent Sepp Blatter is favorite to land the job, largely because he’s the only candidate in the race.


But this is the most senior job in world football, so why has an election to a post of such importance attracted fewer candidates than the campaign to become student union treasurer at my local college?


The straightforward answer is because the only other candidate in the race, the Asian football chief Mohamed Bin Hammam, was suspended on Sunday from football activity along with FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.


They are being investigated about allegations that envelopes stuffed with cash were offered to football bosses in the Caribbean earlier this month as Bin Hammam was on the election trail. Meanwhile, Blatter was cleared of wrongdoing and is free to stand.


But the real answer lies much deeper than this. You have to look at the system and not only the men in charge. Yes, we need to sweep through FIFA’s corridors of power with an extremely large broom if we are to effect change, but reform should not stop there.


There is something systemically wrong when an organization which runs the world’s biggest sport and controls millions of dollars in TV revenues and sponsorship permits a small number of individuals to make most of the big decisions.


There is little or no accountability, no evidence of transparency or even fair play. At the vote – the secret vote – to decide where the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 would be staged, most delegates agreed England were favorites for the former and either the U.S. or Australia for the latter.


But logic and the technical quality of those bids did not sway the jury – so what did? One suspects the morals of a saint would be severely tested if afforded the status of FIFA executive committee membership.


These decisions have caused anger and outrage, and unleashed a sea of claim and counterclaim, allegations of corruption and several investigations both inside FIFA and abroad.


But on Monday Blatter boldly announced to the world’s media that there is "no crisis." This at a time when Blatter has had to explain why he spent $1 million on development projects while on the election trail, and the general secretary Jerome Valcke has had to "clarify" what he meant when he said Qatar "bought" the 2022 World Cup.


He didn’t mean it, he explained, after his comments in an email were leaked by Warner, a temporarily suspended colleague and possibly former friend.


The allegations of corruption against the men running world football have been relentless. In fact, the growing number of accusations of corruption against senior members by fellow senior members and organizations which they represent or do business with has actually become difficult to monitor.


But surely in light of these allegations and the chaos surrounding FIFA, the election should be suspended, at least until the other candidate has finished his suspension, or more time is given for an alternative candidate to emerge? Good question.


But not in FIFA-land, not in the place where due process has been properly observed and there is nothing wrong. Again, they are hiding behind a systemic failure.


We’re way past comparisons with crooked corporations and corrupt councils - FIFA is now unhappily in a farcical league of its own, and all it can do is bury its head in the sand, claim that all is well and ignore the deafening calls for reform.


They have come from many quarters, but FIFA cares little for such disrespectful comment. Politicians from Australia and England – where a sense of fair play is felt so keenly – and the English Football Association are among them. But they’re missing the point. FIFA's elite, and Blatter in particular, have shown they care little for this criticism, saying they are playing by the rules.


Now some of FIFA’s key sponsors have expressed concern about the situation. Never mind the media, politicians and fans, it will be interesting to see how the system reacts to a potential threat to its financial security.

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