It’s time to change how FIFA selects WC hosts

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It’s time to change how FIFA selects WC hosts

ZURICH - Developments of recent weeks proved that the World Cup bidding process and those who manage it need reforming to be more credible.

So goes this year’s bidding process after allegations of back-room deals and votes-for-sale that have tainted Blatter’s organization, but which don’t appear to bother the FIFA president as much as they should.

Nor can faith in FIFA be restored without more accountability, more transparency and more honesty.

The two winners on Thursday, picked from nine bidders, will cheer, as they invariably do. But football shouldn’t rejoice about the way its showcase tournament is fought for by governments and awarded by FIFA for reasons that aren’t solely to do with which had the best bid. Less than two dozen VIPs, all of them men, some of them drenched in controversy but seemingly untouchable, deciding such vital affairs of football and state behind closed doors is so old-fashioned.

As the world’s most democratic sport, because it requires only a ball to play, football deserves better and broader representation at the very top.

Sitting this week in FIFA’s gleaming Zurich headquarters, Blatter can rightly feel proud of the football universe he has ruled over since 1998. Popular from Beijing to Buenos Aires and fabulously wealthy, the world’s most widely loved sport is more than simply surviving the global economic crisis. FIFA’s coffers are bulging with reserves of more than $1 billion.

Although the football itself was too often dull, this year’s World Cup in South Africa was a resounding commercial success for FIFA, which reinvests much of its profits into growing the game. Blatter deserves credit for demonstrating that Africa, a continent still not visited by the Olympic Games, and Africans are more than capable.

With such success, it shouldn’t have the image problem it has. As Claudio Sulser, a lawyer and former player who chairs FIFA’s ethics committee, noted a few weeks back: “When one talks of FIFA, there is generally a negative attitude out there. There is talk of corruption.’’ Blatter is at least partly to blame for that.

FIFA’s president says he cannot be bought. But he heads an empire in which the honesty of some top officials has been questioned. When reporters for London’s Sunday Times posed as lobbyists willing to offer financial inducements for World Cup votes, two members of Blatter’s executive committee appeared to take the bait.

Although no money changed hands, they should have immediately shown the undercover reporters the door. FIFA quickly suspended the pair, which means there will be just 22 voters Thursday instead of 24 and the possibility that Blatter will cast a deciding ballot if two bidders are tied.

Still, the damage to the integrity of football’s governing body was considerable. It looked bad, even if the Sunday Times wasn’t actually able to prove that executive members are corrupt.

Before Jacques Rogge took over the International Olympic Committee, the IOC offered some of the most notorious examples of how administrators sometimes abuse their positions of privilege within sports for personal gain. So it says something about the state of affairs at FIFA that the IOC is now dishing out advice. Rogge said recently that he has urged Blatter to make FIFA more transparent and “try to clean out as much as possible.’’

When the BBC this week made further claims of corruption within FIFA, the IOC said its ethics committee would consider the allegations because one of those fingered is also an IOC member. FIFA’s response was move on, there’s nothing to see here.

“The investigation and the case are definitely closed,’’ it said.

FIFA demands generous tax breaks and other concessions from governments. To placate FIFA, bidding nations promise to spend billions of dollars on new stadiums and other infrastructure, even if they know that they won’t get much use when the World Cup is over. In return, bidding nations should demand that FIFA open the whole process to more scrutiny. Blatter scoffed when it was recently suggested to him that the World Cup balloting should not be done in secret.

“No, please, be realistic!’’ he said.

But, for the sake of openness and credibility, FIFA would be wise to consider it. Because it is voting on two editions this time, FIFA’s next balloting for the 2026 World Cup probably won’t come unt­il 2018 at the earliest. That leaves plenty of time to make changes.


AP
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