Because we're such close personal friends - shaking hands at an event once and then doing that phone interview last year qualifies, doesn't it? - I feel like I can be blunt with you. That's what pals are for, right?
So let me admit right up front that I'm of two minds with regard to your announced candidacy for the top job at FIFA.
On the one hand, since anyone with half a clue recognizes that you're not, in fact, going to need Atlas or Mayflower to quote a move to Zurich for your household goods - Barack Obama is more likely to get the Republican nomination in 2012 then you are to get elected President of FIFA - the temptation is to just chuckle at the tongue-in-cheek nature of your announcement and move along.
At the same time, you yourself insist that you're deadly serious and, as a man of your word as well as someone who doesn't normally pound out straight comedy columns, it's hard not to take you at your word.
In any case, someone, somewhere ought to at least take a stab at defusing the TERMINALLY DIMWITTED PEOPLE who are currently acting like this an an idea whose time has come.
In any case, I am positive that you are not doing this simply for the CHEAP PUBLICITY, the grandstanding or the kind of posing and preening that one might suspect was the case with someone less serious.
So I'm going to operate on the assumption that you're telling the truth and go from there.
With that it mind, let's start with your "platform", as spelled out in your initial announcement column.
You begin by asserting that FIFA has never had an "IOC moment", referring to an open financial scandal that blows the lid off of the cauldron of bribery and graft under which the 2002 Olympics were organized.
In fact, FIFA did indeed have one, and at just about the same time. It happened because a one million dollar bribe which was supposed to have gone directly to a FIFA ExCo member was accidentally mailed to FIFA, which duly deposited it before realizing the mistake.
It turned out that FIFA's marketing and broadcast partner, ISL, was responsible for as much as US$100 million in kickbacks and direct payments in return for awarding broadcast rights, merchandising contracts and ticket marketing monopolies all around the world.
It was investigated by Swiss authorities, ISL collapsed in scandal and worst of all, it was discovered that ISL had blown through all of the money it had been paid for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan without handing over much of anything to FIFA, meaning that as the finals were set to begin the organization was functionally stone broke.
So in actuality, Grant, the FIFA scandal was, in pure financial terms, many times bigger and more outrageous than the IOC/Salt Lake kerfuffle: Salt Lake City handed out ski trips, Super Bowl tickets, college scholarships and some free plastic surgery. ISL handed out something like $100 million in outright, straightforward bribes.
So why does the IOC/Salt Lake scandal come right to your mind while the far bigger - and far more relevant to your case - ISL not even register?
SImple: the media.
They were all over the IOC thing like stink on a monkey, snooping around, digging up dirt, asking embarrassing questions and demanding even more embarassing answers. They left no stone unturned.
With the ISL scandal, FIFA refused to talk about it, Blatter had Andrew Jennings banned from media conferences for daring to ask questions, nobody else was willing to risk pissing in Sepps' soup bowl, thereby risking the credentials giving them access to the coolest evets on Earth and the whole thing disappeared into the Swiss legal system.
It's just a shame that you don't know anyone in the media who could take up this kind of thing.
Someone who works for a major, internationally known and respected publication who would be able to demand answers and bring a ton of heat onto the players involved. To this day there are questions that Blatter has not answered and the reason is that no one in the media, other than Jennings, ever asks.
That would be something that wouldn't require any kind of election campaign. Just someone with the courage to stand up and ask ugly questions that will make the table full of FIFA officials frown.
As for the rest of your platform:
- You say that you'll establish instant replay, institute the use of goal line technology and change the rule demanding a player be cautioned for removing his shirt. A whole lot of fans would applaud those changes.
Unfortunately, the FIFA office you have declared for is "President" not "Emperor" and as such you would have no authority to do any of those things.
The confusion occurs, of course, because the media is always asking Sepp about those topics and Sepp is always happy to express his opinion, which then gets duly reported as news: "FIFA President says he'll consider Goal Line technology" or "Blatter Endorses Instant Replay".
In fact, every one of those items falls under the purview of the IFAB, of which Blatter is not a member.
Yes, he has the power to make some appointments - duly rubber stamped by the ExCo - but FIFA only has four seats, with the other four being held by the UK's "Home Nations" of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and any rule change requires six votes.
In other words, the President of FIFA - you, Sepp or anybody else - cannot change those rules with the stroke of a pen. The President of FIFA can ask, beg, plead and hold his breath until he turns blue but untless he can get six people to agree with him he can go pound sand.
You also say that you'll demand that the World Cup select referees strictly on merit, and again I'm certain that a lot of
fans will applaud. Once again, however, you're promising something that you can't deliver.
The problem is that your method would ensure that virtually every game official would be from either Europe of South America and mostly the former. Having the different confederations represented in the officiating pool is basically an Affirmative Action program and I'm shocked to hear that you are against that kind of thing.
But my shock is nothing compared to the sentiments that will be expressed across the entire developing world where your disrespect for the representatives of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean will most assuredly be described as "white, Western, racist, Euro-Centric colonialist arrogance".
Again, I admire your courage but I hope you're prepared to have no one ever speak to you again at Princeton alumni events. You'll be about as welcome as Glen Beck.
Fortunately for you, such a procedural change could only be instituted by the Executive Committee and the General Assembly, and there is literally no chance that could ever happen since the overwhelming majority of voters in those bodies are from the very countries and Confederations who sponsor the officials that you are trying to exclude.
Put simply, the current method is in place because that's what the majority of the members want. Democracy can be such a bitch.
You then declare, truthfully of course, that FIFA's ExCo has no female members. However, since you have literally no voice whatsoever in electing them - the Confederations do that - you seem to be proposing to remedy the situation by naming a female General Secretary.
Which would be a fine thing certainly, but you don't explain how naming a woman to FIFA's #2 job would do something to remedy the sausage fest nature of the ExCo, since the GenSec is not a member of that august body.
(And your suggestion of Julie Foudy, someone who has exactly no experience running so much as a lemonade stand for the top day-to-day administrative post of a multi-billion dollar worldwide business is tokenism at it's ugliest and nothing short of frightening in addition to being utterly tone deaf:
People want to complain that the 2022 World Cup was granted to Qatar, a footballing backwater of no particular import to the world game and then you say you'd like them to hand the operation of FIFA over to two Americans. Yeah, that'll go over well.)
Recognizing that you need one national federation to nominate you, you told one interviewer that you had no idea who that would be but mentioned "Papua New Guinea".
You were of course rummaging around for an obscure, non-footballing. "who the hell cares" country and that was what popped into your head. I get it. I myself usually fall back on Outer Mongolia in those instances.
However, and I hope you'll forgive me for saying this, to anyone with even the most basic understanding of how FIFA works and why Sepp Blatter has been elected four times, that would pretty much be the absolute last country that came to mind:
They admit that they only have around 69,000 people playing the game at all levels. Their top domestic league is a semi-pro setup with six teams (they had eight but two just folded).
Their "national team" (I use the term loosely) has not even played a game or had a coach since 2007. They just hired an Australian manager and they say their stated goal is to be allowed to enter the Qceania qualifying tournament for 2014. Not win it; just to be allowed to enter it, something which they were not permitted for the 2010 Cup.
And yet, despite all of this, in 2003 Sepp Blatter built them a "National Headquarters and Academy". In 2006 they got a splendid "National Training Academy". In 2008 they got a "Technical Centre" for the development of youth players. They will be starting work on a new national soccer stadium in a few months.
Furthermore, just three weeks ago, the head of the PNG Federation attended the Oceania Confederation Congress, where Sepp Blatter showed up and, in addition to the $250,000 they expected to get - he gives it to them every year - they received a "special bonus" check from Sepp, personally, for an additional $300,000. That's on top of their share of the US$10,000,000 the Confederation got and on top of the goal grants.
All of this goes directly to a guy with no national team whose biggest job is drawing up a schedule for a six team league that would have trouble making the top half of the table in an adult open league in Detroit..
Think he's happy? Think he has any interest in poking Sepp Blatter in the eye just for the grins and giggles of it by nominating you for his job?
Papua New Guineas' vote is bought and paid for a dozen times over. Their President would rather cut off his left nut than see Blatter replaced and has already publicly pledged his vote. He'll let you have his wife before he'll let you have his ballot and there are a hell of a lot of guys out there in the same boat.
So the real question I would put to you or anyone else who proposes - in earnest or in jest - that they be made President of FIFA is:
Why don't you know this?
Every time I write about FIFA or CONCACAF or Jack Warner or Sepp Blatter, at least one post in the comment thread - almost without exception - says something like: "Why doesn't the mainstream media do these stories?".
And while I sometimes toss in some snark about protecting their own perks and access and media passes to the coolest events on Earth, I have never made a big deal about it.
The reason is that it seems a hypocritical. I don't support my wife and children with my writing - a good thing else they'd starve - and I do not have to pay attention to long term career considerations or organizational advancement or relationships with governing bodies and protecting the access I need to do my job. So it's easy for me to point fingers and accuse others and I try to shy away from that sort of thing.
Walk a mile in your shoes and all of that.
But now that you've brought it up, now that you claim you want to make big changes in FIFA and are giving interviews and getting tons of press and casting yourself as a reformer, I feel free to ask:
Where have you been?
You say that in order to cast transparency" on FIFA's dealings, you would toss open the files for all to see.
Let me save you the trouble and tell you what you'd find: a wildly bloated bureaucracy which lavishes it's officers and members with almost unbelievable levels of luxury accommodations, travel, dining and perks and which passes out ridiculous amounts of money to countries like Papua New Guinea which are impossible to justify from a purely football standpoint but hardly illegal.
Let me also tell you what you won't find: a big room full of filing cabinets where you can go over and open the one marked "B" and pull out the "Bribery" file. Or the one with the big "K" on it which has all the juicy details on "Kickbacks". And you sure aren't going to find documentation in the "T" file which says out how ExCo members make a fortune peddling "Tickets".
I know this because a) Swiss authorities have looked and b) FIFA isn't stupid.
That stuff isn't in there, Grant. The crooked dealings aren't found in the minutes of the Competition Committee.
I looked back at your SI articles for the last 12 months and you know how many pieces I found exposing FIFA corruption or Jack Warners' ticket peddling or vote swapping or construction kickbacks or outright theft of development funds or anything of the sort?
None. Zero. Not a word.
Why is that? Why is it that Andrew Jennings - until he got banned - was the only one standing up and asking "the tough questions"?
Let me give you a very pertinent example:
Since you're proposing to leave your cushy gig at SI and take Sepp's job, I would think you might be interested in just exactly what that job pays. But you don't have the first clue.
The reason I know this is because FIFA refuses to disclose it. Reportedly even the ExCo doesn't know what his compensation package entails.
Andrew Jennings used to ask Sepp every chance he got. He's not allowed in the door any more. Have you asked?
You already have a tremendous pulpit from which to effect the change and transparency that you claim you want. You work for an internationally known and respected publication called Sports Illustrated.
Not some bottom of the barrel embarassment like Bleacher Report or SB Nation. Sports Ilustrated.
You've worked there for about 15 years. How many times in that span have you raised your hand at a FIFA media event and asked Sepp how much he's paid or why he fired Jerome Champagne last year, the man described as "the last honest man at FIFA", or who it was who received the estimated $100 million in bribes from ISL, or which ExCo member got the million dollar bribe which was accidentally deposited in FIFA's general account or what FIFA's position is on the fact that Jack Warner has still not paid the T&T players the $20 million he owes them from 2006 and on and on and on.
This stuff is all well known. If you're so concerned about how FIFA is run then why haven't you written about it?
I hope I haven't offended you Grant. It is not my intent. You're a good guy and a great writer and I'm a big fan.
All I'm saying is that you already have maybe the best place in the entire world from which to ask questions, get sources to return your calls, all the tools and the power required to shine some light on the dark corners of this corrupt enterprise and you're about as insulated and untouchable as it's possible to be: not even FIFA frightens SI.
When you get around to holding your first big campaign presser - instead of giving interviews to dimwits - I'm going to stand up and ask why it is you haven't done more with the tools you have had all along.
Don't go around asking - even in jest - for the power to make changes when you aren't willing to use the power you already have.