WHEN Sepp Blatter was hired as a FIFA employee in 1975, the world football governing body was a sleepy, and virtually irrelevant organisation, which employed just 11 people — enough to make a team, with no substitutes, of course.
He was employee number 12.
In 40 years — six as technical director, 17 as secretary-general and 17 as president — Blatter has been a big part of the revolution that has seen FIFA explode into this powerful, multi-billion-dollar organisation.
This is the organisation which, in its last World Cup cycle, grossed $6 billion in earnings.
That a FIFA Vice-President, Jeff Webb, would be arrested, dragged from his Zurich hotel bed in humiliation and whisked away by Swiss police on corruption charges, on the eve of an elective Congress of the organisation, was a huge embarrassment for Blatter.
That Webb is not the first of Blatter’s Vice-Presidents, in the past few years, to be charged with corruption, with Jack Warner, Eugenio Figueredo and Mohamed Bin Hammam all having been caught in that web, while Issa Hayatou was questioned by Swiss prosecutors this week, paints a bad picture of both the organisation and the man who leads it.
When you have such a culture of corruption manifesting itself under your watch, especially when those who are closest to you — on that leadership ladder — are the ones feasting on a broken system, it’s not right for Blatter, as he battled to do this week, to reject ownership of the processes that promote such malpractices.
There are reasons why people are thrust into leadership positions, especially being put at the head of international organisations like FIFA, and one of the main one is to ensure that such public entities aren’t turned into feasting dens by corrupt barons, who abuse the public trust invested in them, for their personal enrichment.
When such malpractices happen, especially on such a grand scale as has been the case at FIFA in the past few years, under the watch of the leader, then those who are questioning whether the organisation has the right man at the very top are entitled to do so.
These vicious critics are right to suggest that, maybe, the reason why such a culture of corruption doesn’t only exist but has spiralled out of control, as the United States indictments appear to show, is because either the leader has been sleeping on duty or he just chose to look the other side while his lieutenants converted themselves into merchants of corruption.
Three times in the past two days, Blatter has told the world that FIFA is at the centre of a huge storm and, crucially, he said the organisation should brace for even worse things, in the coming days, weeks and months, as this corruption drama plays out.
It’s either a measure of Blatter’s cleanliness, which will be very remarkable given the extent of the decay of the institution he leads, a dove that always flies among the vultures, or that he is simply a smooth operator, the man who ensures that his footprints will never be there to be seen when questions are asked.
Remarkably, while one by one of those people who have been his lieutenants have fallen by the wayside, falling on their swords as they failed to resist the temptation of wielding so much power, and with so much money floating around, and turning themselves into vultures which crippled the system to enrich themselves, the investigators and prosecutors simply can’t nail Blatter.
Even the elaborate FBI undercover operation, including sophisticated microphones that were inserted in car keys, and spread over three years, which triggered the arrests of his lieutenants, failed to nail Blatter when it is very clear that he was the very big fish that the Americans were looking for.
And, for that, you have to give the wily old Swiss master his credit.
That is why Blatter, for all the battering that his name has suffered in the international media, remains an attractive package, as a leader, in large parts of Africa and Asia, and why — even with his back against the wall this week — he managed to stage another coup and win the right to be FIFA leader for a fifth term.
At least, Blatter, can point to the success stories that he has written during his 40-year stay at FIFA, transforming this organisation from a sleepy, and virtually irrelevant entity, into this powerful commercial giant that is so strong it can withstand the corruption cases that have dogged it, again and again.
But even someone like Blatter, for all the power that he wields, can be shaken.
Yesterday, Blatter survived the biggest storm to hit the organisation, which has been a very big part of his life, as he barely held on to his presidency despite serious opposition from critics who hold him responsible for the corruption that has tainted FIFA.
That he needed a second round of the voting, with more than a third of the FIFA family deciding that a 39-year-old unknown Prince was a better candidate than him to be the leader of the organisation, should send the message that there are many who believe that there is need for change in the leadership.
THE SHARP CONTRAST
WITH OUR CASE
Our football leader, Cuthbert Dube, has had his fair share of time in the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons, being forced out of his job in a blaze of negative and screaming headlines, being forced out of the chairmanship of ZBC because, under his watch, the national broadcaster virtually collapsed.
And he is just hanging on to his post as ZIFA president because the FIFA kingmakers were more comfortable with him, as the one casting the Zimbabwe vote yesterday, than anyone else.
His supporters will say that, just like Blatter, he has been unjustly crucified in the media and it doesn’t necessarily mean that, because the negative newspaper headlines always stalk him, he is a bad leader.
But, unlike Blatter, Cuthbert hasn’t turned around the fortunes of ZIFA and the country’s football governing body, today, is worse off, in terms of the state of its finances, than was the case when he took over five years ago.
The weight of the debt has ballooned ten-fold, in the past five years, accountability has been thrown out of the window, ZIFA are on their knees, the national teams are in disarray and the Warriors could be banned from the 2018 World Cup by the end of day tomorrow.
If we fail to pay the $81 000 that we owe Valinhos, by the end of the day tomorrow, something that we have been failing to do in the past three months, the Warriors will not be part of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the first time they have failed to be part of the tournament since this country became independent.
So, against that background, one would have thought our football leadership would have weighed which was the more crucial issue — going to Zurich to dine with the heavyweights of world football and selecting a FIFA president, in such a sensitive week where the future of our national team, and World Cup, is at stake or staying at home to deal with this very explosive case?
The ZIFA spin-doctors will tell you that our football leaders needed to be in Zurich, to talk with those who matter, so that they can buy some time, and bargain for an olive branch to be extended to the Warriors, to enable our national team to compete in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
But, in the week where the FIFA leadership had to deal with issues as grave as the arrest of their vice-president, what chances did our football leaders have to sit down and discuss the delay in the execution of the order to declare the Warriors prohibited participants in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers?
Given that Blatter’s challenger, Prince Ali, secured far more than what was expected even by those who backed his campaign, amid reports that some of the African delegates turned against Blatter and voted for the Jordanian challenger, how then will our leaders convince the Swiss master that they voted for him?
If Blatter won 133 votes, in that first round, forcing Prince Ali to concede, surely, there is nowhere that our football leaders can convince Blatter that, even if they had stayed at home, to deal with the explosive situation of a World Cup campaign that is in danger of being sacrificed, it would have altered the outcome in anyway.
Blatter knew, a long time ago, that he was going to win the elections, with or without our vote, and I knew it too, and he didn’t need our vote.
If our football leaders really cared for the game here — either the president, who is the leader of the game in this country, or the chief executive, who runs the office, should have stayed at home to try and sort out the mess that the Warriors find themselves in.
One of them, since they are the pillars of ZIFA, should have stayed at home to try and resolve the Warriors’ crisis, for the sake of Knowledge Musona, for the sake of Nyasha Mushekwi, for the sake of Khama Billiat, for the sake of Walter Musona, for the sake of Denver Mukamba, for the sake of all the players who dream of representing this nation at the next World Cup.
Blatter, in his acceptance speech after being declared the winner of the elections yesterday, said the World Cup would not be touched — it’s a no-go area for any reforms that FIFA might be contemplating — and if the FIFA president values this tournament so much, why is it that our leaders don’t seem to value it that much?
To me that is where I draw the line between Blatter and those we have tasked with leading our national game — the Swiss master, hate him or love him, simply knows what matters for this game while our leaders seem to specialise in abandoning the mandate that we gave them to take our game forward.
While their leaders were away in Zurich, the Young Warriors looked like a lost flock, without anyone to turn to, no one to tell them when they will leave for Swaziland for their Olympic Games qualifier, and will we blame the boys if they feel that they were abandoned by their leadership just when they wanted them most?
While their leaders were away in Zurich, the Mighty Warriors didn’t have anyone to turn to, to tell them where they will get the money needed to fulfil their Olympic Games qualifier against Zambia this weekend, and will we blame the girls if they feel that, in their hour of need, their leaders abandoned them when they needed them the most?
THANK GOD, THERE IS SANITY
AT CAPS UNITED
It’s not all doom and gloom for our football, though, the leadership at CAPS United found a way to stabilise their club last weekend with Farai Jere and Twine Phiri striking a deal that will see fresh capital being injected into the Green Machine and the challenges, which had crippled it, being addressed.
Zimbabwe football needs a healthy CAPS United, no doubt about that, as much as it needs a healthy Dynamos and a healthy Highlanders — that has always been the case and, I believe, that will always be the case.
As CAPS staggered from one crisis to another we all felt the pain, we all felt that our football was suffering, and it’s good that Jere and Phiri found each other and made a deal that will benefit their team.
You can’t fault Phiri, even Blatter said he wasn’t perfect and nobody is perfect, and what charmed me the most is that even Jere acknowledged that his partner had done a very good job to keep the club going all these years.
Our Premiership football was the winner in their deal and, sadly, we can’t say the same for our national football, and that is what hurts the most, that two men can strike a deal to save CAPS United while an entire national association might fail to strike a deal to save the Warriors’ World Cup campaign.
To God Be The Glory!
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