Monster's ball: part of a float satirising Fifa for the Mainz Carnival in Germany, 3 March. Photo: Getty
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Why Fifa is football’s dirtiest player

Last month’s rush to exonerate the Premier League’s CEO, Richard Scudamore, who had been accused of sexism, was just another example of the game’s eagerness to sweep dirty linen under the carpet.

The latest allegations about Fifa’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar have hardly come as a surprise. Indeed, if there was any surprise, it was that there were still some who spoke of being “shocked” at the claims. However, the institutional corruption of football and the hijacking of the “beautiful game” by shady interests does not stop at the top level; rather, it starts there.

Nor is there any reason for the British authorities to look smug. Not only have they failed to take any credible kind of stand against the alleged auctioning of the World Cup, but our own game is increasingly consumed by questionable governance and takeovers by a self-serving elite that considers itself above the law and, by virtue of its colossal wealth, immune from attack.

So many people are now earning vast riches from the Premier League that those charged with governance easily brush aside any attempt to question the efficacy of the “fit and proper persons” tests for club ownership, or the policing of offshore agents and their close relationships with players, managers and officials.

The FA was happy to play the system for all its worth in its campaign to stage the 2018 World Cup. David Beckham was sent to woo Jack Warner, the long-serving Fifa executive committee member who resigned from the federation while suspended pending a bribery investigation, and the BBC was pressured to withdraw a documentary exposing Fifa corruption. Both the Prime Minister and Prince William were cajoled to add their lustre to the fruitless, expensive folly.

Last month’s cursory examination and rush to exonerate the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, who had been accused of sexism, was just another example of the game’s eagerness to sweep any possible dirty linen under the carpet. The Football League’s inability to prevent the new Leeds United owner, Massimo Cellino – despite a fraud-related conviction – from taking over the club seems to me a further illustration of the inadequacy of regulations.

No one has been able to get to grips with a system that allows the players’ union, controlled by Gordon Taylor (supposedly the highest-paid union officer in the world, with a reported salary of £1m), to derive most of its revenue in effect from the employers, in the form of a share of the vast television-rights fees generated by the Premier League.

Although football still thrills and fascinates, the paraphernalia constructed to administer the game continues, free from scrutiny, to exploit the sport. That this has been evident to many observers for so long and has come to prominence only now as a result of a decision to award the World Cup to such a patently unsuitable country is proof of Fifa’s breathtaking contempt and arrogance.

A brave stand by some countries to withdraw from Fifa and potentially blow apart not only the World Cup of 2022 in Qatar but also that in Russia in 2018 (for surely that decision must also be open to question in the light of the latest revelations) would be a step forward. But who in the world of football nations has the moral authority and lack of self-interest to make such a move?

Jon Holmes was a football agent and is a former chairman of Leicester City FC

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

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Vince Cable will need something snappier than a graduate tax to escape tuition fees

Perhaps he's placing his hopes in the “Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front.” 

“We took power, and we got crushed,” Tim Farron said in what would turn out to be his final Autumn conference as Liberal Democrat leader, before hastening on to talk about Brexit and the need for a strong opposition.

A year and a snap election later, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem warhorse-turned-leader and the former Coalition business secretary, had plenty of cracks about Brexit.

He called for a second referendum – or what he dubbed a “first referendum on the facts” – and joked that he was “half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC” for suggesting it".

Lib Dems, he suggested, were the “political adults” in the room, while Labour sat on the fence. Unlike Farron, however, he did not rule out the idea of working with Jeremy Corbyn, and urged "grown ups" in other parties to put aside their differences. “Jeremy – join us in the Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front,” he said. The Lib Dems had been right on Iraq, and would be proved right on Brexit, he added. 

But unlike Farron, Cable revisited his party’s time in power.

“In government, we did a lot of good and we stopped a lot of bad,” he told conference. “Don’t let the Tories tell you that they lifted millions of low-earners out of income tax. We did… But we have paid a very high political price.”

Cable paid the price himself, when he lost his Twickenham seat in 2015, and saw his former Coalition colleague Nick Clegg turfed out of student-heavy Sheffield Hallam. However much the Lib Dems might wish it away, the tuition fees debate is here to stay, aided by some canny Labour manoeuvring, and no amount of opposition to Brexit will hide it.

“There is an elephant in the room,” the newly re-established MP for Twickenham said in his speech. “Debt – specifically student debt.” He defended the policy (he chose to vote for it in 2010, rather than abstain) for making sure universities were properly funded, but added: “Just because the system operates like a tax, we cannot escape the fact it isn’t seen as one.” He is reviewing options for the future, including a graduate tax. But students are unlikely to be cheering for a graduate tax when Labour is pledging to scrap tuition fees altogether.

There lies Cable’s challenge. Farron may have stepped down a week after the election declaring himself “torn” between religion and party, but if he had stayed, he would have had to face the fact that voters were happier to nibble Labour’s Brexit fudge (with lashings of free tuition fees), than choose a party on pure Remain principles alone.

“We are not a single-issue party…we’re not Ukip in reverse,” Cable said. “I see our future as a party of government.” In which case, the onus is on him to come up with something more inspiring than a graduate tax.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.