England ill-cast in crusader's role
This week I realized that world soccer had become a joke.
What took me so long? I was too willing to make excuses.
Those "gentleman's agreements" in Italy? They've been around since the `50s. Vote trading for World Cup bids? Hey, it's politics. Who are we to throw to stones - after all, we have an aspiring presidential candidate who has called the incumbent a Nazi.
Matchfixing in Estonia? Finland? China? Well, who the heck cares about those leagues, anyway, right? The associations between brutal dictators like Liberia's Charles Taylor and the governors of the world game? How can one expect all soccer-playing nations to be perfect citizens? And in any case, isn't the playing of the game something that gives so many hope? Like in South Africa, yes?
This week's scandal involving FIFA - the latest, I must add, because, you know, there have been at least six others - didn't faze me either. I've come to accept that men like our own CONCACAF honcho, Jack Warner, are rogues. The fact Warner's ill-deeds and FIFA-meted punishments are a matter of exhaustive public record has had no effect whatsoever on his career: He was unanimously confirmed for a new term in office. I figured that us Americans just don't give a damn, and as a result, neither does anyone else.
And then I woke up. What tipped things over the edge for me was how the latest imbroglio came to light. It took an MP in Parliament and a select committee to spill the beans on how England's bid was solicited for knighthood, playing fields and hard, cold cash. Wouldn't you know it, this blockbuster information was safely held back until well after the bids had already been decided.
Yes, you read that right: England knew that the bidding process was corrupt. They just didn't tell anyone.
Why? Because they too were blinded by a sick lust for people around the world to pay attention to them for six weeks in just about seven years' time.
No wonder that Warner said he laughed out loud when told of the latest in what has become a sordid, tattered series of tales. He knows that while these stories are not only believable but almost certainly true, that absolutely no one will do a thing about them.
This is because England, always so cocksure about playing fair, stands revealed as just as corrupt as everyone else. What a move from a country that already has the richest, most popular league on the planet. Instead of blowing the whistle, the English were more concerned about winning the right to give FIFA billions of pounds. What a man Lord Triesman is to say, 12 months too late, just how filthy these FIFA types truly are. What a lesson in fair play from a bunch that likes to pretend it invented the concept. Pure class.
Speaking of class, let's recall how England's bid team treated the BBC and the other assorted members of the media who had the temerity to point out all this when it actually would have made a difference. You might recall the bid toffs reacted as if a live pig had been let loose in their gentleman's club. When confronted with taped evidence, they proceeded to smear the BBC, the Guardian, the Times of London - the reporters and cameramen who did the heavy lifting - and then followed up by crawling on their knees to FIFA. Such courage cannot go unremarked.
On the subject of courage, Americans haven't shown much. We fulminate about the "impropriety" of college basketball players getting loans so their mothers don't lose their homes, but have no appetite at all for taking on world sport honchos in their villas. We have the largest free media in the world, and yet our idea of exposing FIFA malfeasance is a stunt: One of our sportswriters threw his name in the hat for the FIFA presidency. This was treated as a grand jape by some serious folks. I remain incredulous that some of my colleagues thought this was a wonderful idea - as opposed to, say, actually doing some investigative journalism.
You might recall that the USA orginally planned to bid for the 2018 Cup. I'm curious why we aren't outraged that a nation we look to as the home of the game apparently concealed evidence of malfeasance. While we're at it, why aren't we asking our own leaders some tough questions? Such as: Why exactly did we want to do business with FIFA? Or: What else those millions spent on the bid might have been used for?
But back to England, whose FA were forced to sheepishly admit that, unlike it's UEFA brethren, it probably wouldn't cast its vote for incumbent Sepp Blatter's re-election. Wouldn't look good, you know, to cast a vote for the guy who presided over all this. And when they admitted it wouldn't look good, they really were talking about the optics. This is truly low comedy.
We've had two weeks in a row with some of the finest spectacle the sport has had to offer, but when it comes to cleaning up after the party, we have no stomach for it. The game cannot be cleaned up, because we don't want it to be. We remain too dazzled by empty promises and fairy tales to really confront the truth - that the game is run by tinpots and shakedown artists that don't give a fig about the integrity of the sport (or integrity, in general).
One final note: Blatter's election is all but assured, but just in case, he warned us all that a "black hole" would descend on the sport if he wasn't rubber-stamped. I'll let you ponder where that hole might open, what might fall out of it - and whether that really would be a bad thing.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.