The unraveling of FIFA is something that certainly is intriguing many of us on many levels. It is becoming a reality TV show that mixes Nordic Noir with Italian Mafia intrigue series. The dawn raid. The re-election of Blatter – only to ‘resign’ a few hours later, and the inevitable revelations of corrupt officials is something that it will be certainly compelling.
- This is going to be good
Something for everyone
But the reactions have been certainly different. For most football fans it was a rejoicing that finally something may act as a circuit breaker for an organisation that it was a rule in itself. Because FIFA wasn’t behold to any government that had a sense of propriety or democratic processes, it could do what it wanted. Until FIFA overstretched and US individuals and a USA company conspired to commit crimes with foreign co-conspirators using USA financial institutions, in order to exploit USA and foreign markets. We may feel fuzzy warm when we hear Loretta Lynch talk about ‘cleaning the most popular game in the world’ But the real reason is that corrupt FIFA officials were corrupting using USA capital organisations . And this is unacceptable in the most important capitalist country in the world.
So the reactions was from football people being really happy.
To people who hate football using the opportunity to shit stirring.
But it was strange to read tweets and comments from people who normally I think couldn’t care less about Association Football, immediately becoming experts in football administration. One of this was Senator Xenophon who became immediately an advocate for FIFA reform. He certainly got quite a bit of media attention, which he lapped up with much glee.
All bound into this was the discussion about our bid for the 2022 World Cup. Firstly I have to say that this is something that has to be investigated. Any spending of taxpayers’ money has to be examined if there is any suspicion that it may have been misappropriated . However this topic has brought up quite a intricate number of arguments. One is the fact that Australia should go it alone and ‘take a lead’ in FIFA reform. This is echoed by the investigative journalist Andrew Jennings
Lots of credit must undoubtedly go to Jennings about his relentless work in exposing FIFA for years. Something that he has been proven right. Despite this I think he comes across as a know it all and as this has become his personal crusade his interviews lack that sense of detachment that I think journalists should have. I also think he swaps and turns his arguments to suit his agenda at a particular time. I wrote some years ago that he is no friend of football in Australia, being very dismissive of it. But recently exhorting Australia to leave FIFA
Which is a curious suggestion considering four years ago he stated that football in Australia was a minority sport and we are not a ‘football nation’. If that is the case then us getting out of FIFA would be of no consequence.
But interestingly even if I don’t agree with his dismissal of football as a sport in Australia he should have stuck with this statement if he wanted to be accurate about how realistically Australia has influence in the politics of world football…very little.
The high moral ground
Apart from Andrew Jennings telling us to get out of FIFA, there also have been others who have proclaimed that Australia should boycott the 2022 World Cup.
There are two different issues here (which are albeit connected). One is FIFA and how that organisation has used graft and corruption for the personal benefits of officials. The second one (and much more important) is the exploitation of foreign workers in Qatar and their appalling conditions.
On the first question I believe that Australia is a relative minnow in world football terms and any gesture such as leaving FIFA would not make one iota of difference. It may make some feel like we ‘took the moral ground’ but in the end it would basically destroy viable football in Australia, and FIFA would still carry on happily and our absence won’t be noticed. Same about boycotting a World Cup, which to be honest it seems to me comes from someone who know little about football in Australia and its history and struggles. Coulter’s call to boycott the Qatar World Cup ignores the fact that a World Cup is not like the Olympics where you just turn up. A nation has to go through a qualification process. So if anything Australia would have to withdraw from the qualification round. Again our absence will be largely unnoticed and perhaps it may make some dictatorship in the Middle East very happy that a World Cup spot would be free once we were out of the way. And do you think that our absence would make the Qatari think “shit, Australia is going to boycott our Word Cup we better treat our workers fairly” ?
Of course the argument is also that it doesn’t matter whether we make a difference or not. Making a stand is the ethical thing to do. But in that case we shouldn’t have gone to the Beijing Olympics where workers were also exploited. And let’s forget about Rio de Janeiro as well considering the forced eviction of poor people from the city. The fact is that these big sport events involve massive amounts of money and when we talk about profit is the poor and the workers getting abused.
I am not saying that this is right. Not at all. What I am questioning is whether Australian soccer should be the sacrificial lamb to uphold our morality, while other sports escape scot free.
That doesn’t mean that Australia should do nothing. Australia should so what it had done in successfully in diplomatic circles for years. Support and work within a group of more powerful football nations for change.
What about the FFA?
“Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence”. Robert J. Hanlon
Parallel to that we also have questions about the conduct of the FFA, Frank Lowy and the role of some media figures such as Les Murray. Claims and counterclaims have swirled around social media since the FIFA arrests.
I got lots of information second hand. As I was not part of the inner workings of the bid I have no authority of what really went on. All I have to form an opinion is what people have reported.
One of the persons I believe the most is Bonita Mersiades. Bonita lost her job after querying the tactics of consultants working on Australian bid for the 2022 World Cup, and now actively involved in advocating for a total reform of FIFA.
People like Bonita and Jesse Fink questioned the bid both at the FFA and at SBS and obviously became persona non grata.
There is no doubt that Mersiades and Fink were treated badly for holding an ethical line. I was irritated by Fink’s questioning of FIFA and the bid process because I thought that Australia having the World Cup was the best thing ever. I imagine that if I was part of the ‘bid team’ I would have kept quiet, thinking that the prize of a World Cup would be worth not raising too many issues.
I do wonder whether this mindset (if this was what was happening at the FFA – only speculating) derived from the belilef that there have been some greasing of palms in previous bids and we had to go along with it if we had any chance to be competitive. But more importantly from the sense of inferiority that we football as the football community developed over the years as being derided as the ‘Wogs, sheilas and poofter’ sport.
Here is a chance to get the biggest sport event in the world that would have dwarfed all other codes…all other sports in the country. We would have all the attention. Soccer would reign supreme. And perhaps this may have clouded some judgments. ‘Whatever it takes’ is a motto that has put sport in trouble before. Just ask the Essendon Football Club.
Who knows whether this is what happened to people like Les Murray. Another ‘Murray’, Martin McKenzie Murray has written a devastating expose of the role of Les Murray (and Frank Lowy) in the bidding process. Especially in engaging Peter Hargitay to consult on the bid which Martin McKenzie Murray describes as ‘unctuous’.
And what about Frank Lowy? Again a few in the media (and social media) are clamoring for his resignation. Andrew Jennings amongst them who have stated in an interview that ‘ He’s led Australian football into disaster’ which really is hyperbole.
Lowy is no saint. He’s a wealthy capitalist, and as all wealthy capitalists would have exploited opportunities and cut corners. Back in 2008 his family’s finances were audited by the Taxation Office when a US Senate report alleged he hid assets to avoid Australian tax. Lowy stated that he did anything wrong but the mentality of an entrepreneur is that you search and use any possible advantage. And when Australia bid for the World Cup Lowy did just that. He decided to ‘play the game’ as he believed others bidding nations were doing and did before.
Sepp Blatter giving Johnny Warren FIFA’s Centennial Medal of Honour.
There were two problems with that. One was that it got Australia involved in some corrupt schemes and shady deals and second that while the FFA tried to ‘play the game’ it was outplayed by others who played the game much better or had more influence.
There is considerable hatred for Lowy amongst some in the Australian football community. Most of this seem to come from ex NSL fans that see Lowy as instrumental in establishing the FFA and the A-League that excluded the traditional clubs such as South Melbourne and Sydney Olympic to be part of the top competition of football in Australia. Lowy himself was part of the traditional NSL family being involved with Hakoah a Jewish team that then became Sydney City. But as the crowds dwindled (in 1984 Sydney City average crowd was 1019) and Soccer Australia became dysfunctional Lowy tried to take hold of the game by unsuccessfully standing for the presidency of the ASF against Sir Arthur George. Believing that the ASF and NSL leaders did not share his vision for the game he withdrew from both football and the presidency of Hakoah at the end of 1988. Some claim that the demise of Hakoah started when Lowy initiated the Sydney City Slickers experiment, thus removing any ‘ethnic’ connection with the team. And some believe that he has done that with the A-League and with teams participating in the FFA Cup. Some also believe that His and Andrew Lederer’s long standing determination not to allow any sort of involvement by anyone else in the running and administration of Hakoah is repeating itself again in how he’s been running the FFA. The way he ran the World Cup bid being one example and the other when John O’Neil contract was not renewed because of ‘creative tensions’ with Lowy.
While many will disagree with me, I believe that overall Frank Lowy influence on the game has been positive. Since he became chairman of the FFA we qualified for World Cups, and despite inevitable hiccups the A-League is still with us, and getting more mainstream exposure than the NSL ever did. Of course the World Cup bid is a big black mark. A Sydney Morning Herald editorial on June 4 stated:
For the good of the game he has done so much to develop in this country, Mr Lowy should step aside from FFA immediately until all questions can be resolved. There is no suggestion the shopping centre mogul has done anything illegal. He has a proud legacy to protect. But he must realise that if he stays during the inquiries, FFA will be sorely conflicted, doubts will linger and his hopes for a smooth changeover in five months’ time to his chosen successor, his youngest son Steven, will be jeopardised.
I don’t think Lowy should step down. I think it would serve no purpose unless it is shown he was directly involved in anything dodgy. However I do believe that it would be very wrong for his son Steven to take over without proper consideration. The FFA is not Westfield where Lowy can put whoever he wants in charge. It is not Lowy’s plaything. As Simon Hill rightly puts it “having the son take over the family business is accepted practice, in football (where there are many more stakeholders), it is not.” The FFA is not a dictatorship like North Korea where the leadership gets handed over from father to son.
At least the FFA has done a couple of right moves recently. It hasn’t voted for Blatter in the election for president, and has decided not to bid for any further FIFA events until it gets a “overhaul”.
The way the bid has to be conducted has to be investigated. Lowy succession has to be open and fair, and Australia must be part of a movement to reform FIFA with other nations, rather than going on its own in a futile blaze of glory. This processes will strengthen Association Football this country and potentially position it to be an influential member of the football world community.