Thursday, December 2, 2010

World Cup voting needs transparency

After Australia failed in it's bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, emotions are mixed. Most of the better-known feelings are bouncing around: jealousy, anger, relief, disappointment, happiness and resentment. But by far the most prevalent statement I've heard has been that of the jilted lover: "We don't care, we don't want to be associated with that corrupt organisation anyway". Like a break-up, it hurts at the time but now reality has set in again, the subject can be analysed with more clarity and objectivity. Now the prospect of hosting has vanished in a mild explosion of whimsy, Australia is looking for reasons Qatar won the bid and the first reason to which most have come is that FIFA is possibly/probably/how-can-it-not-be a corrupt organisation.

Maybe there are some corrupt members of the FIFA Executive. Maybe there aren't. But the process of awarding the hosting rights to the World Cup is such an opaque, murky mess that it's precisely the environment in which corruption and bribery thrives. As a case in point, two members originally scheduled to vote had their voting rights withdrawn due to to allegations they had taken money for votes.

Once a country or group of countries decide to bid for the hosting rights, the subsequent years are full of wining and dining preening and self-important FIFA execs, who expect only the best treatment. If the "entertainment" is poor, then it reflects poorly on that bid no matter how many other positive factors there may be. When a FIFA World Cup Selection delegation arrives in a country they are perfectly happy to be treated as visiting royalty: to accept the lunches, handshakes and intangibles that potential hosts have to offer. When the time comes to put pen to paper, by maintaining a silent bid process they can choose for a) Whoever has the most impressive bid or b) the guys who treated them best, whether that be inside the regulations or out. These same FIFA executives don't like being made accountable for their actions by you, me, the bidding countries or the media: Britain's bid for the 2018 tournament was said to have been damaged by a documentary detailing alleged corrupt practices in the FIFA system since 1989. Bad-mouth FIFA and their secretive brethren at your peril.

That potential host countries are unable to see who has voted for them - and hence how well their legal (or illegal as the case may be) money has been spent - identifies the voting process as that of a secret society rather than that of an immensely powerful worldwide organisation. The slightest implied slight to an executive member pays horrible dividends to a country's bid yet the executives themselves don't put themselves in the same firing line by saying "I cast this vote". If the voting process was made simpler and more transparent then much of the corruption and allegations of bribery would fade into the background.

Sepp Blatter is an easy target, as is the shemozzle he presides over in FIFA. But sometimes easy targets are that easy because their actions or words put themselves in the firing line again and again. By making each executive member accountable for the vote they cast would be the first step in making FIFA less of a secretive coven of powerful wizards needing to receive tribute and more of the governing body football needs in order to continue flourishing.

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