By Kevin Koczwara
The world’s biggest sport is in danger of falling apart, collapsing on itself and losing its global grip because those trusted with the keys to the most luxuries and lucrative sport in the world have failed their fans, players, managers and the owners.
FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, is losing legitimacy one day at a time. News continues to seep out about bribery, voting buying, and in-house who-knows-whats. FIFA president Sepp Blatter won his fourth consecutive term as President of FIFA, but his time in charge keeps creeping closer to becoming a time FIFA would like to forget as more and more news comes out of Zurich.
Blatter’s time in time hasn’t been easy but he certainly hasn’t helped himself either. Blatter has pushed aside any and all opposition with barely any recognition. He’s shuttled men (because no women are apparently allowed to be inside the old men’s club of FIFA) out of their posts because they question him, because someday they may want his lucrative job, maybe. He has preferred to ban and not explain. And best of all, he has decided to present the world with mythical stories of a perfect world inside the FIFA compound when questioned about possible turmoil.
Blatter won’t acknowledge the need (dire need) for goal line technology, or a system of replay. This summer’s World Cup had a handful of replay worthy chances go unanswered, and at times the story of technology took over the headlines when the game being played should have take the lead spot on the sports page. If Blatter had any sense of understanding or reason — which he apparently doesn’t — he would acknowledge and understand the need for such technology. Professional leagues understand the need, so why doesn’t big Sepp?
Blatter doesn’t want goal line technology; he doesn’t think it’s necessary. But fans of the game, pundits and journalists alike have been calling for a change to the rules. The world’s biggest sporting event, the World Cup, cannot be decided by a missed call. A countries fate in making the World Cup cannot not be missed by a horrible call. Should qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil have a similar tragedy to that of Ireland’s in 2010 it will be a shame and partly because of Blatter’s inability to embrace chance. If it does happen, expect more outcries and a similar answer from FIFA because it’s always easier to sit on your hands, as Blatter has done in the past and seems to be willing to do again as long as he has money in his pockets. It’s sad but true, a team’s chances of making the biggest stage can hinge on a missed call or a poor decision when there could be measures implemented to help fix those problems.
Clubs aren’t sitting on their hands waiting for FIFA or it’s smaller, local governing bodies to get behind certain policies, though. UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, is being threatened by the biggest clubs in the world with a secession. Some of the biggest clubs in the world have begun drawing plans to create its own league because promises have been broken, money isn’t flowing freely back to them, and because UEFA, much like FIFA, barely budges when something needs to be done. Top that off with corruption allegations in Turkey forcing the season to start late, and the recent troubles in Greece’s top division, and UEFA has a major mess on its hands.
Clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, and AC Milan are all threatening to leave UEFA when the current contract expires in 2014. The group of teams, and likely more, will create their own league with it’s own European rules — a super league of sorts. This way the teams will get a better share of the money generated, it will have restrictions on when players can and must leave for international duty and protect teams from losing money due to injuries to key players. Think if Liverpool could have prevented Steven Gerrard from going and getting injured while playing for England in a friendly, the team would have had its talismanic midfielder to close out the season under Kenny Dalglish. But it didn’t because he was injured while playing for England in a midseason friendly. Think about how many times Arsene Wenger has lost key members to his team (Robin van Persie every year it seems) to injuries that occur away from Arsenal and on international duty. Could Wenger have ended the trophy drought a few seasons ago if major players weren’t hurt? It’s interesting to think about.
And It makes sense for these teams to break off if UEFA doesn’t listen because they are the main attraction to Champions League. These are the big clubs; they hold the key to the global brand. And UEFA needs them playing in the Champions League every year, not competing with it. In turn, FIFA needs the biggest and best clubs to allow their players to go off on international duty. If they don’t, who will watch a bunch of second string players play for a trophy that doesn’t mean much anyways because it could have been bought with bags of cash rather than the quality of play on the field.?
To keep this money-making machine running full-tilt, FIFA and UEFA need to re-examine their places and their policies. Governing bodies will never be clean of corruption and collusion, but by ignoring the problems or forgiving them, a governing body — any type of governing body — loses its foothold and legitimacy. Bribery is a serious charge. Withholding money causes a stir. And neither UEFA nor FIFA can afford to let their grips go on the players and fans because if they do someone will jump at the chance to organize a competitor. And time isn’t on their side.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.