Sunday 23 October 2016

Paul Hyland: 'FIFA Congress is a cross between the Oscars and a Fianna Fail Ard Fheis during the Celtic Tiger'

The FIFA logo at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland
The FIFA logo at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland

ORDINARY mortals who love football have absolutely no idea about how the other half lives. To witness a Super-Blazer in action is a bit like seeing a shy and exotic bird. They do their thing in private.

FIFA Congress is a big deal for them. Not quite the Oscars but somewhere between that and a Fianna Fail Ard Fheis during the Celtic Tiger.

Some sort of work is done by the FIFA staffers, a well-heeled, smooth bunch who oil the machine, but the real action is away from the delegate area where the game's royalty mix and mingle.

They don't often leave the confines of seven star, gold-plated luxury and when they do, they are swept into very big black cars, often with police outriders. There are important people.

READ MORE: The US 'soccer Dad' who revelled in FIFA perks but turned into Fed's 'supergrass'

They move in circles occupied by diplomats, politicians, the aristocracy and the mega-rich but they never look quite right.

Their background is seldom connected to this hyper level of humanity which consumes vast quantities of cordon bleu canapés, never sees the back of an aeroplane and occupies the very best seats at every big sporting event.

READ MORE: UEFA put boot into Sepp Blatter

No matter how good the hotel beauty therapist, coiffure or tailor - and the places they stay have such things on tap - they cannot quite remove the fact that the client was not born to the high life.

You see them at any big event, not just football. Old men with their wives, waddling from airport courtesy lounge to first class seats, to wildly luxurious hotels, to banquet hall, to poolside seats. They arrive at venues clutching goodie bags and festooned with access all area accreditation badges, the most useless things ever printed.

Why? They only ever visit one place. The VIP Tribune where they get to graze on more bits of high quality food.

Mostly, the average globe-trotting Super-Blazer is just someone smarter than the average Joe who, by clever politics and a talent for admin, rises through his local organisation and finds the whole of FIFA open to him.

Not just the organisation which strives to run the game of association football but the upper level of privilege where a champagne life style is standard. The smartest of the all, the ones currently being hosed down by the Feds, see the opportunity created by the transfer of enormous amounts of money and insinuate themselves into the process.

Once they keep their supporters supplied with trips and trinkets, they hold their power. It's easy work. The culture of expectation at this level in all sports is breath-taking. and there's a global army of sweet-talking marketeers and PR people who know how to tap into it.

They work for the very biggest companies. Huge corporations pay huge money to have their brand associated with the world's favourite game and somewhere along the line, chunks of that cash fall through the cracks.

In the cases currently under investigation in America and Switzerland, huge amounts are involved and there is no finesse about that. If the people involved are guilty of taking bribes, the money trail will nail them and presumably, the FBI have their ducks in a row.

The big question for many people is whether Sepp Blatter will be dragged into the middle of the investigation at any point and given that several of his closest allies and associates within FIFA have been answering questions under oath, that would seem likely.

UEFA's call for a postponement of the presidential election ups the ante and Michel Platini is clearly ready to launch a real bid to take the top seat from Blatter.

Under the headline, "UEFA shows FIFA the red card," the European ruling body's statement on events in Zurich doesn't mince its words: "These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in FIFA's culture."

That is about as tough a charge as any affiliate has aimed at a parent body in the history of the game.

Over the years, there have been many attempts to expose the kind of wrongdoing which is now being revealed but those engaged in the process are often hamstrung by the absence of vital documents or when the moment is right to expose serious issues, key witnesses evaporate like smoke and certainties are replaced by doubt.

This time the FBI and the US Justice Department are doing the heavy lifting and it has to be said, the heart gladdened when that fact became obvious.

It would be deeply ironic if the good old USA, the territory Blatter tried so hard to conquer during his long and scandal-spattered time as FIFA top dog, supplied the means by which he is finally removed.

Wiould that fix the game and wipe out corruption? Not a chance. There are dozens like Sepp out there, waiting for their chance and when the fuss dies down, they will get back to work.

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