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October 2020

For years the international press has called for the end of Fifa. Only now are the English media picking up the story.

By Tony Attwood

There are around 6000 articles on Untold Arsenal, and I am not sure which one of them first contains the notion that Fifa ought to be abolished, wound up, excommunicated, abandoned or anything else along those lines.  I know it was way back in the early days that it was first said, but for the moment I just can’t find the article.

Certainly it was long before 22 January 2015 when Untold ran its article about the change in the Swiss law that allowed the Swiss to arrest Fifa leaders

Switzerland take a greater interest in Fifa – at last

We were, as often, a bit ahead of the game because only the Press Association and similar bodies outside Switzerland ran the story – at least until May 2015 when Fifa officials started being arrested.

The first sign that anyone else was on our side came (of course) not from the UK press, which apart from recording the excesses of the debauchery of Fifa officials did nothing to suggest a solution to the problem that is Fifa other than that wishy-washy word “reform”.  No, it came from the New York Times on 6 June 2014 when Dave Zirinjune wrote

MOST people associate FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, with the quadrennial joy of the World Cup. But as the 2014 tournament begins next week in Brazil, FIFA is plagued by levels of corruption, graft and excess that would shame Silvio Berlusconi.

He went on to point out that

FIFA was founded in 1904 in Paris as a simple rule-making committee that aimed to regulate the guidelines for a new, rapidly expanding sport when played between nations.

And that is a really good point.  It is handy to have an organisation that codifies the rules, but really that is all we need.  I’ll come back to that.

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That article didn’t mince its language.

Under the iron-fisted leadership of Sepp Blatter, FIFA has been steeped in rotating scandals for so long, it’s difficult even to imagine its not being immersed in one public relations crisis or another…

FIFA officials have been accused of financial mismanagement, taking bribes and projecting a level of sexism and homophobia that seems to come from another century.

Prior to this a separate New York Times piece revealed that only six people on its staff of 350 in Fifa are responsible for anti-corruption activity. It is supposed to monitor corruption, but it’s not clear it does.

That earlier article noted that In Brazil, striking teachers, security guards, firefighters and bus drivers are demanding “FIFA-quality wages.” Housing activists are occupying land and asking for “FIFA-quality homes” while nurses call for “FIFA-quality hospitals.” Wherever FIFA shows up, as the World Cup approaches, protesters dog its every step. As a friend in São Paulo told me, “FIFA is about as popular in Brazil as FEMA was after Hurricane Katrina.”

It concluded that

International soccer desperately needs two entirely distinct bodies. One would be in charge of monitoring and actually stopping corruption, bribery and match-fixing.

The other could be in charge, in the words of Mr. Blatter’s predecessor, Mr. Havelange, of selling “a product called football,”

The article ended

It is past time to abolish FIFA. It is like a gangrenous limb that requires amputation before the infection spreads and the beautiful game becomes decayed beyond all possible recognition.

The following day the same paper ran The Fixer Offense in Soccer noting that

The results of an estimated 680 global matches from 2008 to 2011 — including some World Cup qualifying matches — were found to be suspicious, according to Europol, the European Union’s police agency,

At the time Fifa had six investigators and a backlog of 90 suspected fixing cases it deems worthy of investigation.

It was strong stuff, but not reflected in the British press.  Nor was the May 2015 article on Quartz which went out on its own and asked,

But must UEFA, Europe’s soccer governing body, stay in FIFA? A solution to the ongoing break between FIFA and Europe, the spiritual and economic home of soccer, and is for UEFA to simply go it alone. Yes, that would mean an end to the World Cup as we know it. This may sound like heresy but it really isn’t.

Remember that all of these pieces I am citing come from the American media because… no one in England will talk about it.

The Quartz article goes on to talk of breakaways in cricket, American football, US equestrian, Formula One  – not all of which worked but most of which had an impact.

It proposed that simply some footballing body would put on a world cup.

If the South American countries were persuaded to join [Europe] the alt-FIFA, then you would have all the best teams in the world, competing in a highly lucrative tournament, under a banner not smeared with dirt—one that sponsors would be happy to back, since finances are so important to any business.

So the world beyond the British media moved on.  No mention of this on Sky Sports News, or in the press.   Or at least until on 16 Feb 2016 in came the Telegraph with a piece by Paul Hayward.

He noted the candidates in the forthcoming Fifa “election” (I use the word in its “democratic republic” sense.)  

Of the five candidates the article says, Two are senior members of political regimes – Bahrain and Jordan – where democracy, transparency and accountability are not noticeably constitutional bedrocks. A third, Jérôme Champagne, is some kind of strange ghost in Blatter’s old machine. A fourth – South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale – is accused of dining out on old Nelson Mandela anecdotes and has made no impression. Which just leaves the man the FA will end up plumping for by default on Friday week: Uefa’s secretary general Gianni Infantino, whose boss, Michel Platini, has been banned for eight years.

So what about a world without Fifa.   

Even those who rate Fifa’s capacity for contrition and correction between zero and minus-one dismiss the possibility of outright abolition. How would it be done, they ask? Answer: by the Swiss attorney general and government closing Fifa down, as they would (well, in theory) any other Swiss firm that was flouting national and international law on such an epic scale on Swiss territory.  

That this hasn’t happened yet is largely down to the willingness of bodies like the FA to support Fifa.  As the Telegraph says,

The FA’s man in Zurich for example – the glacial Geoff Thompson – has devoted many years to Fifa committee work without stumbling across anything he felt he needed to blow a whistle on.

Now at this point the article deems that the World Cup would continue –  and it holds out little hope for the future.

An intriguing rumour doing the rounds is that Loretta Lynch, the pugnacious US attorney general who went to war with Fifa, is coming under political pressure to ease off. The theory is that any unfortunate discovery around the 2018 World Cup bid would start a clamour for Russia to be stripped and therefore complicate the geopolitical picture, particularly in Syria – just as there is no political will to take 2022 away from Qatar while the Qataris are gushing sovereign wealth into western economies.

The FA has come out of all of this badly.  It supported Platini, then ditched him, and then moved onto Infantino as its own leader then decided to jack it all in, having failed to get the changes in the FA itself that he had promised.

But let’s come back to the notion that has started to creep into the debate.  Do we need Fifa at all?  And do we need the World Cup?

What does the world cup do for you?  It adds to the cost of your credit card interest, your sugary water drinks and the like as the big sponsors spend billions supporting Fifa.  It injures Arsenal players.  It makes it hard for players to get any rest in the summer, and so often delays the return of players for the start of the new season.  It gives you a chance to watch England being talked up as having “a real chance this time” and then being knocked out in the first round.   (And if you think that notion has vanished and that people no longer expects England to win, just look at the pre-tourney write up of England in the under 21 tournament of 2015 and 2013.  And then check the results.

No, we don’t need a world cup.  Those who love bribery and corruption want a world cup, and given what everyone now knows, supporting the world cup can only be a support for the same bribery and corruption.

We do need a body to regulate the laws of football – to bring in video refs and to bring refereeing in England at least up to 50% of the standard that exists in the rest of Europe.   At the moment that is sorted out by four people from Fifa and one each from England, Wales, Scotland and N Ireland.   

Clearly that process doesn’t work (since refereeing in England is so awful, and there are no video refs), so maybe we just have one rep from each country with over 5,000 registered clubs and a 66% vote in favour to change any law.  That could do it.


18 February 1987: Tony Adams’ international debut.  He played 66 times for England, as well as 15 England “B” games, and five games for England under 21s.

18 February 1998: Chelsea 3 Arsenal 1 (League cup semi final 2nd leg).  Chelsea went through to the final, but Arsenal went on to their second League and Cup double. (For a short guide to season see here)

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And an insult for the day (since we are writing about Fifa)

“Thou drone, thou snail, thou slug, thou sot!”  (Comedy of Errors)


10 comments to For years the international press has called for the end of Fifa. Only now are the English media picking up the story.

  • BarryL

    You must be psychic Tony
    While I was reading your last piece on the media in the UK “Journalists make it up…..”
    I was thinking the UK sports media is fixated by phantom transfers, EPL managerial moves, two footed tackles by Flamini, smart play by Vardy to win a penalty etc etc

    But where were was the brave investigative journalism to uncover FIFA corruption (or the IAAF). It took the FBI and the US Attorney General to step in to clean out the Aegean Stables that are FIFA.

    Now of course our brave journos are all over the issue like a rash.

  • nicky

    When I spare a thought about FIFA (which is not very often)I am always reminded of words my old Great-Uncle Eli was fond of using….”Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
    There is so much corruption throughout FIFA that nothing short of collapsing the foul edifice and rebuilding will suffice.
    We who follow the game are not privy to all that has gone obscenely wrong in global governance over many years.
    One simple opening change must occur immediately, however.
    Never again must there be the appalling and shameful cost of submitting a bid to hold a World Cup.
    Thanks to those who are determined to uphold the law, there is now a golden opportunity to put matters right. Let there be no delay in taking advantage of the situation.

  • rich

    Good stuff. Given the relentless stories of corruption in nearly all sports at the minute it must be the case that either it’s a bit more difficult to hide things in this age or this age is taking greed and corruption to new levels.

    I glanced over a story this week that the guy trying to become the head of ice skating- ice skating!- was previously embroiled in a controversy with trying to fix events at the Olympics. He got caught out because a judge he was pressuring to vote won way to secure a certain result, in exchange for another result elsewhere, broke down in tears and came clean.

    His defence this week was the classic of not admitting what he did but saying ‘hey we all make mistakes’, finished with the classic ‘I didn’t kill anyone’

    All I can say is ‘cry ,Lee, cry; it aint worth your soul, Mas-ey, Masony’

  • serge

    Yes FIFA & EUFA have been shown up as the corrupt organisations that they are by the FBI & others (Loretta Lynch was my alternative sports personality of the year 2015), and should be dismantled completely, but I like international football and look forward to tournaments (even though England are crap). I can’t imagine there never being a World Cup or Euro, so I would like a scaled down replacement organisation and countries who wish to host finals can only be considered for selection first on their suitability and then by a transparent voting system. Lobbying for votes should be outlawed and bid budgets limited to £1 million max.

  • Pat

    I thought the FA was now supporting Infantino, the FIFA secretary. If so, all this talk about FIFA corruption from the British press seems to be just verbiage.

  • Menace

    I love the world cup. It is such an education in styles of football. The 1970 Brazil team being my favorite & the Dutch team being the first to be robbed by corruption & Argentina getting through on an abuse of goal difference.

    Allocation of venues must be by drawing lots. Each continent must be given sequential opportunity. Countries that have extreme weather conditions & religious restrictions must be excluded form World Cups. Bids are corrupt or corruptable. What kind of alcoholic beverages will be available in Quatar for those fans who enjoy a social side of football?

    FIFA, EUFA & FA must all be disbanded & a new set of Associations answerable to grass roots must be set up. Transparent, democratic & accountable on an annual basis with published accounrs. The corrupt organisations such as PGMO will no loger exist as all officials must be directly tied to the Domestic Associations with a standard qualification set.

  • I
    .”Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Very true..

  • Crovax

    Do we need the World Cup? Perhaps “we” don’t.

    But picture this: I take 2-3 weeks off work every four years, to make sure I don’t miss a single minute of a single game of the World Cup. There’s simply no other way if you live down under. So, do I need World Cup? Bloody oath I do! It’s an addiction that must be satiated. I’m pretty sure I’d be speaking for billions of people here too.

    The problem is not in the concept of a World Cup, it is ultimately with the people who run it – Fifa. Get rid of Fifa and have an organisation like the UN regulate the WC amongst the nations/confederations.

    So, don’t generalise in saying that “WE” don’t need the WC. You clearly don’t, and that’s fine, but that’s only your opinion. General consensus says otherwise. And when you’re using England as an example, when did UA become a site for the English only? You represent millions of fans worlwide.

    As always, great points everywhere except for the need for the World Cup. 🙂

  • GoingGoingGooner


    I get your point about the World Cup…but please…not the UN. I worked for them for 18 months…and, whatever politics or corruption that exists within member states is brought into the organisation.

  • Crovax

    Fair enough, GGG. I never thought the UN was a squeaky clean organisation, but there has to be be something out there able to organise a WC free of corruption…

    On a related issue, if you’ve got half hour to spend, here’s a good article from ESPN on the FBI’s Fifa investigation. It’s a bit annoying in the praising of various investigators, though largely justified.