Take yourself back to the school playground. You may have been in with the in crowd. You may have been out on a limb. You may have been a bully. You may have been bullied. But it’s likely you recall the experience.
In or out, bully or bullied, many of us secretly loathed the clique creators while outwardly expending far too much time and energy trying to ingratiate ourselves with their inner circle. Because within that inner circle there was security and there was power.
Take yourself back to those occasions when teams were being picked in gym class. You may have been first choice. You may have been last. I was personally in the latter category and I've never felt so isolated. I was not a sporty kid, and this, in Scottish terms, means I was not a football-playing kid. The epithet "beautiful" attached to the game never really held water with me back then. And, having since met Peter Beardsley, it doesn't hold water with me now.
I digress. My point is that, while the game ain’t exactly pretty at times, what’s happening in its corridors of power is positively grisly. Football itself may not overly excite me but FIFA fills me with morbid fascination. Why? Because the sport’s governing body takes playground nightmares and writes them large.
We hear a lot about bullying these days, and rightly so. But in a “Glee”-free world, we’d hear more about the fact that the victims rarely overcome their adversaries – at least not in the schoolyard. What makes FIFA’s behavior so abhorrent is that, unlike with conventional school scenarios, Blattter and his buddies have the run of their schoolyard. In the worst case scenario (which we may not even be witnessing yet), there are no teachers to say “Stop!”
At school, the threat of suspension applies to all who overstep the boundaries. Suspension at FIFA certainly applies to troublemakers. But only those who make trouble for the top brass. And the top brass here have something far more powerful than popularity. They have money. Lots of it.
On team FIFA, based in Zurich, there are roughly 380 players. But the size of the squad belies its significance. FIFA raked in revenue of $4.2 billion between 2007 and 2010, according to its website. This is a cozy clique in which the average salary is $170,000 per annum. This is a secret society in which $290 million worth of expenditure can be casually classed as “Other (e.g. IT, travel, PR)” on the pages of the annual report.
FIFA unquestionably does much good in developing the game. But it also derives much gain from the developing world. There’s something rotten in the state of Switzerland.
Those who would dare try to fracture the FIFA fraternity have much to lose. In the case of national football associations, the fear is one we’ve all felt from time to time: the fear of being ostracized. No more World Cups, no more Champions Leagues, and, as a direct result, lower income and the loss of big-name players. As in the playground, and despite one’s better instincts, it’s far easier to stay on side with the winning team.
Sponsors (themselves global cash cows) may bemoan the association's manifold shortcomings. But you don't hear them bemoaning Sepp Blatter's presidency. Why squander a safe bet?
On Wednesday, Blatter will stand unopposed for FIFA 's top job. He's seen off his competition before a single vote has been cast. He's proven himself unassailable and indeed untouchable.
Blatter is, to some minds, a tyrant in the mold of those that several nations have recently taken to knocking. Acknowledging a public stirring, the English FA has asked FIFA to postpone Wednesday’s election. But its voice carries little more weight than that of the background boy, stuck playing keepy-uppy while the playground kingpins enjoy a kick-around. Until a few of those kids split from the set and question convention, schoolyard rules will remain… and the bullies will reign.