Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Book review: The Fall of the House of FIFA by David Conn



“We who have loved football all our lives do not want to believe that those who run the game, on their manifestos of doing good, are this corrupt and rotten,  and so marinated in greed.”


When a World Cup is awarded to Qatar, a country without any real record of football and a climate that makes playing it in the summer almost impossible, you sense that something in the global game is not right.

This book unpicks the story of the spread of corruption that spread across FIFA over decades and meant that most of the organisation's top representatives were making a side income from back handers and bribes. Against a backdrop of a FBI investigation and revelations that exposed the depth of the corruption this book reveals that the culture of corruption has long been steeped in the organisation.

If you had to point the finger of blame at anyone other than the individuals involved, and some of those like Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner are almost cartoonish in their villainy, then it would have to be television. The arrival of TV rights and the ever increasing sums of money that has gone with it have created the opportunity for corruption.

The mixture of sponsorship and TV rights were sources of income that would be paid to be involved and film World Cups but there was also the opportunity for corruption to come as a result of the structure of FIFA. With individuals holding influence over the votes for World Cup host cities and the President role there were always going to be chances that their decisions at the ballot box could be purchased.

Conn unravels a story that sadly got more depressing the deeper he went into it. The fact that Sepp Blatter appears to be able to shake-off the worst of the corruption allegations makes up very little for the numerous country FIFA bosses who did admit to taking bribes.

The suggestion that a new president at FIFA has introduced a fresh broom and a chance for the organisation to put the past behind it is also pretty well destroyed by Conn revealing the greed over salary that Blatter's successor displayed.

FIFA also appears to have been fairly consistent at neutering any investigations and attempts to clean up the organisation and stem the excesses of the past.

Reading this is not always easy because it clearly quotes a lot of legal documents and in order to make sure it does not fall foul of the lawyers keeps the text and the accusations very clear and dry. But there is enough drama here to make it keep you wanting to read on until the end.

If you love football then this book will depress you. It should because the corruption has been excessive and the way the game has been run has been a disappointment. But if you love football then there is also the ray of hope that even with some of these crooks running the game the sport still manages to move people all over the world.

My love of the game is becoming harder to maintain because of the influence of money and the billions pumped in by TV rights is also something that echoes in the Premier League. It's all a long way from kicking a ball around in the back yard and a few more books like this and maybe I too will become like to grey hairs in the crowd moaning about the good old days when everything seemed more simple. The tragedy is that as the case of FIFA shows you have to go back quite a way to find any good old days.

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