Questions in Brazil

IN THE EVENT: Questions in Brazil

Scott Reid, Orange County Register posed these questions on the eve of the World Cup kick-off and I answered them whilst in Rio, after a spell in Manaus.

SR: How much will the corruption within FIFA and the CBF leave a cloud hanging over this World Cup?

AT: The CBF leadership has been exposed as inefficient and corrupt for a long time now, so little will change there. On the street and the beach in Rio some of the protesters are asking who profits, and the Brazilian people are said to profit least. But as ever, much will rest on the performance of the team now that the tournament has kicked off. If Brazil progresses, enthusiasm will be sustained and will mount, and there’s an everyday realism among people that many of the promises were never really on. If the stadiums are full, the matches are good, and the Brazilian side performs well, there’ll be a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders about long-established corrupt practices, but joy and pride about getting the event off the ground and welcoming fans and visitors. Carioca have been nothing but charming and helpful, in small shops, bars, restaurants and buses, metro. A party of Venezuelans, men, whose country hasn’t qualified for these finals, were in great form at a neighbourhood bar in Copacabana last night for the opening match, here for the party regardless of who’s playing. When the action starts, the corruption headlines tend to recede.


SR: How much does the history of corruption with the CBF taint this World Cup and the Brazil bid that secured the Cup?

AT: The football and the competition and the stories and characters that emerge will dominate, unless strikes leave stadia seats unoccupied, or main thoroughfares are gridlocked. Brazil securing the hosting was a done deal within FIFA, comparable to South Africa 2010. There’s widespread recognition of corrupt practices in bidding, but a lively engaging tournament will make its own history. Things would be really tainted if there was to be corruption on the pitch, as in 1978 when the Argentinean hosts scored so easily the number of goals needed against Chile, I think it was, to secure progression to the next stage.


SR: Could the Qatar scandal finally be a tipping point for FIFA or do you think FIFA and the Blatter administration will once again ride out the storm and find “safe harbor?”

AT: In my article in Sport and Society, The Supreme Leader Sails On, and the new FIFA book, I suggest that stakeholders – critically, primary sponsors – and so-called members (national associations/federations) need to show serious and sustained commitment to change. Usually, associations, a majority of which Blatter has sewn up, stay silent (England blusters now and then), and sponsors might issue PR statements asking for reassurance that things will be cleaned up (the image/brand in particular), and then it’s back to business as usual. Qatar is a powerful global player and if it does go under, what about the questions that could then be put related to the decision taken at the same time to give the 2018 World Cup to Putin/Russia?


SR: Do you see any signs that real reform could be implemented in FIFA or does reform remain as you wrote a “hopeless impracticality?”

AT: I may be proven wrong on this, but FIFA careerists and committee members live a mega-luxurious lifestyle, small associations get relatively large and unmonitored economic subsidies, and the FIFA Congress is answerable only to itself. It would take a tidal wave of reformist views and commitment to change to unravel this infrastructure of power, privilege and unaccountability.


SR: Do you see any appetite within Brazil of reforming the CBF?

AT: None to my knowledge.


SR: Do you find any irony or find it fitting that when Teixeira resigned Marin said “the stupendous work that was being done Ricardo Teixeira will continue”?

AT: This is a typical statement of tribute to a corrupt dynasty. It is testimony to the endemic corruption of Havelange and his successors.


SR: How telling is it that the two men, Havelange and Teixeira, who basically ruled Brazilian football for parts of six decades will be nowhere to be found when Brazil hosts the tournament?

AT: This is interesting, and is a sign that the shamelessness of the corrupt has its limits. Havelange had to resign his life membership of the IOC, the only remaining such member, on confirmation of his economic practices when FIFA president. In a way he’s now like a dictator in exile, though that certainly doesn’t guarantee wholesale change in his past spheres of influence. But it will take time for more professional and honest generations of football administrators to emerge confident enough to tackle ethical, and legal, issues without fear.


SR: How much responsibility does FIFA’s major U.S. corporate partners hold in not forcing more accountability within FIFA?

AT: I think I have touched on this above. World Cup sponsorship works, and cosmetic changes within FIFA processes have usually been enough to satisfy these corporate partners.


Alan Tomlinson, June 11th 2014






Here, I was asked questions by Chilean journalist José Joaquín Suzuki Vidal, of El Mercurio newspaper. My thoughts may have missed his deadline, but I’m grateful for the questions, for the prodding.


JJSV: Why do you think Lionel Messi was awarded with the Golden Ball? There are comments that said it was because a sponsorship conflict with Adidas … Also there’s a questioning about the countries that belong to the technical commission that choose Messi as the Golden Ball. Theirs is a political conflict in those positions?

AT: There’s no evidence of which I’m aware of any direct influence from adidas on the decision of the members of the Technical Study Group. That group comprises 13 experienced coaches and numerous former players from the continental confederations – 4 from Europe, 3 from the Central Americas and the Caribbean, 2 from Africa, 2 from Asia, one from New Zealand representing the Oceania confederation; and just the 1 from South America, the former international Gabriel Calderon, from Messi’s Argentina.  There’s no obvious political agenda in this grouping, and any direct pressure from adidas in relation to the destination of the ‘adidas Golden Ball’ award would be astonishingly crude even by FIFA standards and the marketing aspirations of its partners. Gerard Houllier gave a relatively convincing account of the case underpinning the Technical Study Group’s decision to make the award to Messi, also noting that a candidate for the award had to be a participant in the final, the championship decider.


JJSV: How do you rate the influence of FIFA outside the football field? How does it use it?

AT: FIFA’s major influence “outside the football field” lies in its capacity to place its cash cow, the men’s World Cup, in locations of its choice. In recent years (though this may change) this has been in the hands of the FIFA Executive Committee (the ExCo), which is made up of Joseph Blatter the president, and 24 members from the continental confederations, with Jérôme Valcke servicing the committee as general secretary. So that’s just 2 FIFA employees, only one of them with a voting right. What can be claimed is that the ExCo has a kind of global representativeness, but we know too from the scandals over the years that ExCo members have pursued self-aggrandizing and frequently corrupt personal agendas, accepting what have effectively been bribes for their votes in World Cup bidding wars, or generating business deals for their own companies or on behalf of companies in their own countries. The brilliance of Blatter’s survival strategy is that when corruption is revealed or exposed, he can say that these are not his people, that the confederations and national associations bear much responsibility for the administration and development of the game. Clean the stables, as we say, and bring in newer, fresher horses. Blatter operates at the level of idealist rhetoric and crude slogan – ‘For the Game. For the World’ – and as long as the World Cup continues as the effective cash cow that it is for FIFA, leaves the national associations and individual host countries to bear the burden of cost of the staging of the spectacle.


JJSV: What of Sepp Blatter’s influence and power? It has any political influences? What are their political networks?

AT: Blatter’s power base lies in the manipulation of the votes within the body to which FIFA is accountable, the FIFA Congress itself. His predecessor the Brazilian João Havelange established geo-political blocks of supporting votes, from Asia and Africa in particular, to win the presidency in 1974, and was returned unopposed for a further five presidential cycles. Blatter has held power in the same way, defeating UEFA’s president Lennart Johansson for the presidency in 1998, and threatens to stand for his fifth term as president in the election in 2015. Having seen off his potential rival Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, in the context of bribery scandals related to the Qatari’s potential leadership challenge, his three re-elections have so far seen him receive increasing votes, allowing him to claim a stronger mandate each time round. Blatter has been at FIFA since 1975, and knows the secrets and the stories of the organization’s meteoric growth. He has been masterly in his cultivation of the Congress votes for the presidency, which gives tiny nations with little football tradition a vote equal to that of Brazil or Chile, Germany or Italy. His Goal development scheme has kept the minnows of world football in his pocket for the votes and elections that really count, with the scheme’s regular payments for football development, barely or not at all monitored as far as I can see, an incentive to many tiny national associations to sustain their support for the man who has offered, since 1998 and in his own words, “tailor-made solutions”.


JJSV: Which countries have more influence inside the organization?

AT: Switzerland has some influence of course in that numerous employees and Blatter himself are Swiss! But a close look at committee memberships and chairmanships can be revealing. Argentinean Julio H. Grondona has been chairman of the Finance Committee for some time now. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Argentina benefits directly from this, but certainly the networks of Grondona in his home country might see some benefits. Until his resignation after corruption revelations, Brazil’s Ricardo Teixera, son-in-law of Havelange, was an extremely active committee member, and of course this would have hardly worked against Brazil being awarded the hosting of the World Cup. But little-known individuals can build hugely influential profiles. A couple of years ago, David Chung, of Papua New Guinea, was the busiest committee man of all, sitting on 9 committees. It’s not easy to see how much positive benefit was channelled back into such an individual’s home country, national association, or in this case the Asian Football Confederation.


JJSV: Is South America, for its football relevance, one of the most influential associations?

AT: As the first existing continental confederation, dating from 1916 – the European one wasn’t founded until 1954 –  South America’s CONMEBOL has enormous symbolic significance; Uruguay’s ambition and initiative in staging and winning the first World Cup in 1930 was also highly significant. Chile too made a massive contribution in staging the 1962 Finals. So with just 10 national members, but a long history, and 9 triumphs by South American sides out of 20 tournaments, South America punches considerably above its weight in world football achievement as well as politics. But there have only been 5 World Cup Finals in South America (plus 2 in Mexico), a European side has now won the title in South America, and perhaps we are at a turning point in South American influence. Havelange’s substantial legacy, and that of contemporaries and successors in FIFA networks, might be on the one hand the shambles of Brazil’s football infrastructure – compared to Chile, or Colombia, let alone the central American neighbour Costa Rica; on the other hand, the loss of overall South American influence. Or maybe the balance of power is changing in South America, though the current president (from March 2013) of the confederation at its headquarters in Paraguay is 82 year-old Uruguayan, Eugenio Figueredo. Perhaps it is time for ambitious football nations and associations to ask for change at the confederation level, which is the key to change within FIFA via its committees and decision-making structures.


JJSV: Inside FIFA, which are the most powerful people? What are the key positions?

AT: The really key positions are in the hands of Blatter and Valcke. The ExCo remains close to unaccountable, apart from to the passive Congress.


JJSV: How are the FIFA presidential elections held?

AT: Voting is purported to be by secret ballot, but we know that confederational block voting can often override any principle of the free individual vote.


JJSV: How does the sponsorship work? Are the World Cups a good business for FIFA?

AT: They are great business for FIFA because the hard work is done by those who host the events. FIFA claims to pump back the majority of its surpluses into football development, but huge monies still go to the business of running FIFA’s business itself, and sustaining luxury lifestyles for its employees and committee members.


JJSV: How does FIFA’s finances work?

AT: Detailed annual finance statements remain relatively opaque, but there is debate about FIFA, and its partners/sponsors, paying taxes related to their business activities in host countries. Typical of organizations in Switzerland defined as non-profit making associations, its finances can remain undisclosed to the outside world.


JJSV: The Qatar World Cup bid, the ticket reselling scandal discovered in Brasil and a rising critics of the fans: is this the worst moment for FIFA in years?

AT: FIFA has had many controversies to deal with, but Qatar may be the most difficult one of all. We await the outcome of the internal investigation into the 2010 decision to award the event to Qatar, but the Qatari lawyers are ready to dispute any charges and to hold FIFA to is decision.


JJSV: If Sepp Blatter were to resign, who would take over FIFA?

AT: UEFA president Michel Platini is a hot tip to succeed Blatter, and the two go back a long way, Platini having been a kind of symbolic running mate for Blatter in the 1998 FIFA presidential campaign. But Platini’s also implicated in the support for Qatar that got it the 2022 decision. German Franz Beckenbauer has often been mentioned but he has no interest in running in any open contest, and his close relationship with sponsors may also taint him as a reform or post-reform candidate.

Blatter rose via the deal-making of the 1980s and 1990s, a disciple of adidas boss Horst Dassler. It’s unlikely that anyone could come through that route of general secretary again, and the current incumbent Valcke has also been condemned by a US court – when FIFA marketing director negotiating the sponsorship deal with VISA behind the back of existing partner MasterCard – as a repeated liar. He had to resign his position, but soon bounced back as secretary general. Smooth and slick Valcke may be in the global public eye, but this profile is hardly a CV for a forward-looking presidential reformer.


Alan Tomlinson, July 19th 2014