Friday, July 20, 2012

FIFA's five rules for ruling

Mohammed Bin Hamman's lifetime ban from all FIFA activities has been lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He was last year found guilty by a FIFA panel of inquiry for attempting to bribe CONCACAF officials into supporting his bid for FIFA presidency.

Once more the world's most popular sport plunges into bureaucratic anarchy, unable to focus on anything other than defending themselves against accusations of self interest and greed. Much of the glare will be aimed squarely at Sepp Blatter: the incumbent president was elected unopposed when Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy after speculation as to his conduct arose.

Expect this one to stay before the courts for a loooooong time.

FIFA can now no longer accomplish anything without suit, controversy, speculation and countersuit. Any real work the governing body should be doing – like, say, rooting out corruption – is sidetracked by eternal self-defence. As an entity, FIFA has become so unwieldy and submerged in legalese that it seems to exist only to perpetuate their own power.

Any accomplishment whatsoever defies the contented inertia emanating from Zurich.

In the excellent (if slightly repetitive) book The Dictator's Handbook – Why bad behaviour is almost always good politics, two US academics assert there are five rules employed by each “successful” dictator. These rules allow a leader to stay in power almost indefinitely. All were followed – one way or another – by absolute rulers such as Gaddafi, Mubarak and Castro.

Those five rules, broken down, are:
  • Keep the ruling powers small
  • Keep the “electorate” large
  • Control the money
  • Pay your supporters just enough to keep 'em loyal and
  • Never take money from your supporters to make the population's life any better

It was one of those matter-of-fact moments when I realised all of these rules are explicitly – if not consciously – followed at FIFA headquarters.

Points one and two involve staying in power by abusing the electoral process, a skill at which Robert Mugabe excels. The ruling power is FIFA's Executive committee, of which there are twenty-four members; however, it can be said that only ten of these members have any substantive power. Secondly, the greater “electorate” involves all the governing bodies of all 209 recognised FIFA member nations.

When it comes to money, FIFA's main source of finance is the World Cup, which is doled out on cough, cough “merit”. It's the single most lucrative month in football, the prototypical golden-laying fowl, and enough to make politicians and administrators all over the world treat FIFA "dignitaries" with more respect than visiting heads of state. Any member of this cadre wants to stay - so they are paid just enough to keep them from upsetting the apple cart. Finally, why would any of these members risk the gravy train to give the average fans what they want?

Of course, this may all be just coincidence – these principles aren't necessarily applied only by dictators or absolute rulers, just those whose primary aim is to stay in power. Coincidence or no, there are just too many similarities for comfort.

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