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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

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.