Gravy train: Fifa president Sepp Blatter on the pitch with a Saudi official in Riyadh. Photo: Getty
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It is time to clean up the beautiful game

In recent days, Fifa seems to have plumbed new depths of almost comic-book villainy.

At the turn of the century, I attended the first Fifa conference on the subject of players’ agents. It was held at the Italian FA’s technical and training centre in Coverciano, outside Florence, and the initial speech came from a man introduced as a leading sports lawyer from Germany. He informed delegates that Fifa’s rules held no jurisdiction in either international law or, indeed, in the Swiss canton where it was based. The Fifa officials present greeted this with indifference: not a comment was passed nor a question asked.

After two days, I returned to England and wrote a brief report for Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League. I heard nothing more from Fifa, the FA (which had sent two officials) or Scudamore.

In recent days, Fifa seems to have plumbed new depths of almost comic-book villainy in its alleged attempts to misrepresent Michael Garcia’s report into the World Cup bidding process. Garcia, an American lawyer hired by Fifa, has learned what many of us have learned in football: corruption in the game is so widespread and the beneficiaries of the gravy train are so many that reform is impossible while the central structure remains in place.

The FA has discovered to its cost that its hugely expensive and naive attempts to canvass support as an aspirant host of the World Cup have merely enabled Fifa to point the finger of suspicion at it. David Bernstein, a former FA chairman, has now called for England to lobby for Uefa – or at least some European football nations – to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Most would be reluctant to do so but in Germany, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a former star player and chairman of the European Club Association, is an outspoken critic of Fifa. Perhaps by enlisting him, my client Gary Lineker and others to lobby within Europe, those of us who despair of Fifa might be able to exert pressure on associations and governments to take up the cause.

I wrote in these pages in June that the FA also needs to sort out its own issues. Why, for instance, does the Professional Footballers’ Association gain most of its income from the employers? And why have there never been adequate investigations into the many illegal payments allegedly made to managers and officials in transfer dealings?

But what if a reformed and cleaned-up FA withdrew from Fifa, supported by Germany and the US? Together, the three nations control much of the TV revenue and thus the sponsorship dependent on TV exposure, which is so vital to the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, and his ilk pursuing their interests in a game so internationally powerful that it seems above the rule of law.

As one listens to the mealy-mouthed Richard Scudamore speak of how he hopes that things will get better, one realises that those employed by the various official organisations are in too deep
to call time on the system, as flawed as it is.

It reminds me of the silence of those in the banking industry who knew what was going wrong in their trade yet stood idly by. Yet those who care for football, the players and supporters, without whom the professional game would not exist, must act. 

Jon Holmes is a former football agent

This article first appeared in the 20 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The deep roots of Isis

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.