Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Totalitarian State – From a Concerned Football Fan

Their actions evidently seem contradictory to their motto.

Very often, you’d find that inside a totalitarian state, like that of China, Syria, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Belarus or even Russia, there are so many things about it that are so good but it is because of the regime, the outside world in general has a very poor opinion on the countries. This need not be just in politics, there is politics everywhere and even though it is always said that sport should be independent from politics, we still can’t separate the two, can we?

Well, with the conclusion of the 65th Congress of FIFA, it was inevitable that the public was going to go gaga following the re-election of the controversial president Sepp Blatter despite the wake of the recent corruption scandal that has hit the headlines, yet another time, where FIFA has been in the headline for all the wrong reasons with the previous prominent one being four years ago where the World Cup for 2018 and 2022 was unexpectedly awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively, making it very clear that the organisation was being taken over by oligarchs and sheikhs. This re-election from the outside simply implies Blatter would have ruled the beautiful game for nearly twenty years, since 1998.

Too many similarities in the picture?

Why Belarus is called a totalitarian state? It does have elections, but then, the elections aren’t exactly fair, there is only one person (Lukashenko, in this case) who gets a thumping victory every time such elections are held and Belarus hasn’t seen any other president till date. But in comparison, Blatter doesn’t seem to be much different from Lukashenko, barring the fact that his reign started four years after that of the latter, but then, their tactics aren’t a lot different, like in 2011, how Blatter abused his presidential powers to get both his nearest rivals suspended, being Mohammed bin Hammam (AFC) and Jack Warner (CONCACAF) just before the 61st Congress. I believe FIFA has seen more presidents only because it has lasted longer than Belarus, so far. The recent one goes without saying, Blatter lobbied enough to get enough support for his re-election despite the fierce opposition from the all-powerful UEFA; who were vocal about their support for the Hashemite Prince Ali (ignore the irony of a Hashemite running for power, they normally just get it). As far as the lobbying is concerned, I’d just take the example of my own country of residence, the president of All India Football Federation (AIFF) – Praful Patel, gave a press interview declaring India’s support for Blatter and didn’t offer any valid justification as to why he was rooting for Blatter rather the fact that he had been at the helm for too long. It’d be interesting to know that Patel actually happens to be a politician from a party called the NCP, expanded as Naturally Corrupt Party by the current Prime Minister in one of his rallies (not entirely unsubstantiated) and so, I guess Blatter couldn’t have asked for a better ally. But jokes apart, to think of it a little seriously, the larger question arises, is FIFA really the democratic organisation acting in the best interests of the beautiful game?
The misfortune about FIFA’s democratic structure is that, the presidential candidate, in most cases just needs to gain the favour of one person from each country to become the guardian of the most followed sport in the world and taking my own Praful Patel example, as far as I know, a significant ardent football fans whom I have spoken to in India were absolutely against the re-election of Blatter but still, it absolutely doesn’t matter, you get a headline in BBC World News saying that ‘India supports Blatter’ as that man has managed to lobby enough to gain the support of ONE person in the country.

The Ghost Goal

 To go on with the other shortcomings, FIFA have been holding on to their archaic rules in the name of holding on to antiquity and have not taken any step to develop the game in anyway whatsoever and amongst all the sports that I follow, football uses technology the least, thanks to FIFA. While other sports voluntarily implemented technology, it took Frank Lampard’s ghost goal in the 2010 World Cup (can’t believe it is more than five years, the frustration is felt to this date) for Blatter and his congress of loons to realise the importance of goal line technology. So, here you find the next feature of a typical totalitarian state in FIFA, that there is no step voluntarily taken towards development unless you’re forced to and you ingratiate only those whom you’re close to and I’d come to that in the next paragraph.

Ingratiating the people whom you want, another typical feature you’d find in any totalitarian state, shrunk to a single word – ‘cronyism’. The incident that could be immediately recalled is the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where alcohol is prohibited inside stadiums to curtail violence. But then, Budweiser was a chief sponsor of the FIFA and hence, even before Brazil raised any talk of amending the laws to make an exception for the world cup, FIFA released a statement saying that Budweiser would be allowed to sell and eventually, Brazil had to budge by passing a bill, colloquially termed as the Budweiser Bill. See, here you go, you’ve the next feature – suppression of the interests of citizens (members in this case) to support the interests of a select few large corporations.

Coming back to what I stated in my first paragraph, take the case of, say, Syria, said to have so many excellent relics of the Mesopotamian civilisation, the early Roman structures, Islamic structures in Aleppo, etc. and most tourists have narrated very positive experiences with the people of Syria but still, people had a negative opinion from the outside because of the Al-Assad regime (although, considering the alternatives after the break out of the civil war, Al-Assad seems the best option available) and similarly, the headlines that the guardian of the beautiful game is grabbing is doing the game more harm than good and the game is going to make no inroads into countries where the game isn’t very popular when an organisation like FIFA is promoting the same.

To conclude, I’d say that FIFA isn’t doing the game any good, corruption is so deep rooted, and it is akin to an absolute totalitarian state as substantiated above. This means, to protect the game, only two things could be done – either a complete overhaul is required in FIFA to correct the mess that they’re in and the recent scandal wasn’t a revelation in anyway, but just something known to everyone and it took a lot of time to come out. The second alternative is a complete boycott of the organisation and I’m happy that UEFA is taking the courageous step and I hope they carry it forward. The latter seems the only option at the moment as with the re-election of Blatter, things certainly don’t seem to change for the better and as such, he is someone who has the audacity to say, ‘I’d forgive but not forget’ while referring to Platini’s critical comments. I read some positive headlines that England is willing to boycott 2018 if more join the movement and I hope the movement gains the momentum and hopefully, sooner rather than later, FIFA, the way we know it today no longer exists and what we see is a reformed guardian of the sport whose priority is the welfare of the sport.

Have a nice day,


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