These are interesting times for Football.
The arrests of key executives from FIFA have been a long time coming, but ultimately they have had the desired effect and that is to see the resignation of Sepp Blatter.
There is no doubt that corruption has been rife within FIFA for over two decades. With corruption comes so many other problems. Firstly it can never be contained and starts to seep into other areas of the game, which has sadly happened around the globe. It also attracts a certain kind of person to the game. People who want all of the trappings and put self interest ahead of the game. Many of these people are in fact incredibly weak personalities, and that has been evidenced by the behaviour of former FIFA executive Trinidad and Tobago’s Jack Warner, one of those arrested last week.
“I will no longer keep secrets for them who actively seek to destroy the country,” he said in an address on Trinidadian TV on Wednesday evening entitled “The gloves are off”. Mr Warner threatening to reveal all.
As much as Australia claims its bid for the 2022 World Cup was “clean.” There must be several people who are looking cautiously over their shoulders waiting for a knock on their door. Australia handed over money to Warner, money that was allegedly for a new stadium in Trinidad, but ended up in Warner’s private bank account. A gross error of judgement according to the FFA.
The truth is Australia was desperate to sit at the top table with FIFA. Frank Lowy as Chairman was equally keen to ensure that his name would go down in the annals of the game as the man who steered Australia to be one of the top football nations, not just in Asia but in the World. The question is at what cost?
In 2004 Lowy entertained Blatter and his cronies on his yacht out at sea during the Athens Olympics. He convinced FIFA to host their Congress in Sydney in 2008 and it was Blatter who encouraged Lowy to bid to host a World Cup Fianls.
Many will say that this was a wildly ambitious move. As much as Australia loves sport does it really have the infrastructure to accommodate or move fans and players around the country to the levels a World Cup would require?
Yet Lowy saw an opportunity to have his name linked to the game forever. He was blinded by the glory of bringing the World Cup to Australia. So much so that he saw the value in hiring controversial consultant Peter Hargitay. A man who together with his fellow consultants Andreas Abold and Fedor Radmann, cost Australia more than $12 million, out of the $46 million the Australian federal government provided in funding for the bid.
These men were supposed to win Australia the required votes. They failed miserably.
This raises the question was the same ploy in place with South Africa’s bid for the 2006 World Cup? We may now find out whether this was a pattern within FIFA. Did they encourage lesser football nations to bid, a process costing tens of millions of dollars, have them fail and then promise, should they bid a second time, they will be successful? Of course only if they are sure to pay the right people. This may well become clearer in the coming months.
The World Cup aside Lowy and then FFA chief executive John O’Neill worked very closely with the now disgraced President of the Asian Football Confederation Mohammed Bin Hamman, to smooth the path for Australia to join the AFC from Oceania. Qatari Bin Hamman has been banned from the game for “conflicts of interest” in his role as President and banned from the game for life.
There was a raft of evidence brought against Bin Hamman who was suspended from FIFA at the same time as Jack Warner
Asia will be voting soon on whether Australia remains a part of its Confederation and despite what those at the top in Australia are saying, its position is more than precarious.
Having supported Blatter for another term as President of FIFA in 2011 Australia openly put its weight behind his opponent in 2015 Prince Ali Hussein. This went against the voting of Australia’s Asian counterparts who opted to support Blatter for the same reasons Africa had, because of the finances given by FIFA that keep the game afloat in their countries.
Australia and Lowy have been engulfed in controversy since the failed World Cup bid a stain that has never gone away and probably never will.
Was this shift a calculated move to try to distance the FFA from the corruption charges and join in the fight to bring about change to the governance of world football? Or was it more about trying to save face as controversy continues to rage about that World Cup bid?
Lowy’s tenure at Chairman of the FFA has seen him working the system. He has tried to curry favour with the “game breakers” that run, or ran the sport. Many of those key players are now facing corruption charges.
A major warning sign for Australia’s position in Asia is the fact that on Thursday The Asian Football Confederation threw its weight behind the choice of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. This move in spite of the global cry to question the Gulf state’s right to host the tournament.
The AFC’s official statement states “Qatar 2022 will be the first time the West Asian region will have had a chance to show this passion to the world, during what will be only the second FIFA World Cup to be held in Asia. The AFC and the whole Asian football community stands with Qatar and we all look forward to hosting the World Cup, and welcoming the world.”
Australia is supposed to be a part of the Asian football community and clearly does not support this stance as it wishes the bid process to be re-visited, for obvious reasons. So where does that leave Australia?
West Asia has already stated en bloc that it does not believe that Australia belongs in Asia. Other Asian nations may well feel that Australia’s solo stance on the Presidency of FIFA and its own interests in hosting the World Cup in 2022 goes against the best interests of the majority.
Frank Lowy who has been the Chairman of the FFA since 2003, and who is due to step down later this year, has said that Sepp Blatter’s resignation “should open the door to major reform, I say should because FIFA’s problems are deep-rooted and tangled in a culture that has developed over decades. It will take a united, concerted effort by its football associations to fix the mess.” Lowy said.
However on Lowy’s watch did not he and his employees dance with the devil? Did they not try to play the FIFA game and fail?
Frank Lowy who has wanted to be remembered as the saviour of football in Australia may well in fact end up being remembered as the man who gambled his and the game’s reputation in Australia on a short term gain.
It is going to take some serious politicking by the Board of the FFA and CEO David Gallop to ensure that after the 2018 World Cup Australia is not sent back to qualify through Oceania. Whether we like it or not Asia does not want Australia to be a part of its Confederation and these recent events will increase the opposition to Australia remaining a member nation.