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Fifa’s World Cup Debacle Isn’t Just About Money – There’s Horror, Death Too

Fifa’s World Cup Debacle Isn’t Just About Money – There’s Horror, Death Too

Friday, 1 December, 2017 - 08:30
‘The next three world and European tournaments were set in place by people who have since turned out to be corrupt.’ Illustration: David Humphries

Are you feeling it yet? The Fifa corruption fatigue? It has, after all, been seven years in the making, from the oddly homespun excesses of the whistleblower Chuck Blazer, football’s own mobility scooter Liberace; to the cold, gangsterish disdain of the Grondona-Teixeira-Leoz axis, the kind of Fifa men who would carve out your liver with an ivory-inlaid oyster knife if it meant getting a step closer to a secret six-figure TV rights access sweetener.

This week the US justice department court case sparked into life in New York. Its first few days provided such a vivid dose of toxic colour it is tempting to call Fifa’s continuing corruption debacle a gift that just keeps on giving. Except it fees like something else by now, a gift that has, frankly, given too much, but which still keeps on dishing up its shovel-loads of corruption and human weakness. This is the other thing about the World Cup. It isn’t only the money now. It’s the horror and the death too.

A recap then. On Tuesday a prosecution witness alleged that Julio Grondona, a former senior vice-president at Fifa, had taken $1m in bribes to vote for Qatar to host the World Cup. The witness, Alejandro Burzaco, named a broadcast executive called Jorge Delhon as an intermediary. A few hours later Delhon was found dead by a railway siding in Buenos Aires. Police say all the signs suggest it was suicide.

On Wednesday prosecution lawyers complained that one of the accused, the Peruvian FA head Manuel Burga, was making a repeated “slicing motion across his throat” in Burzaco’s direction as he gave evidence. Burga’s lawyer said his client had simply been scratching his throat as he suffers from dry skin. He called Burga a “gentle, meek, timid man”. Burga is accused of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.

On Thursday, and promising at least a little laughter in the dark, a court in Peru finally ordered the extradition to New York of 85-year-old Nicolás Leoz. The same Leoz who allegedly suggested the FA Cup should be renamed the Nicolás Leoz Cup in return for his World Cup vote and wandered across to the FA delegation at a drinks party and demanded a knighthood. All of which he denies, naturally.

On Friday it was claimed that, not content with his $1m, Grondona decided he was inadequately bribed, woefully under-bunged. At a dinner in the Copacabana Palace hotel, Grondona had “insulted” the gathered Qataris and demanded a further £60m, part bribe, part blackmail, like the kind of bumcrack-cowboy builder who suddenly decides, with the ceiling down and the floor up, that actually there have been some complications and, yeah, need it in cash mate, cheers, we’ll be back next month.

This is only the first week. There are five more to come in court. Not to mention five long years before this most painful and debilitating of World Cups is finally dredged from the gut and sent gurgling around the U-bend of history.

And this is the startling, inescapable fact about all this. The next three world and European tournaments were set in place by people who have since turned out to be corrupt. The men responsible may be gone, but their citadels still stand, just as Fifa’s 2010 double-bid ceremony remains football’s own calamitous meltdown, its waste still burning in the soil.

Time for another score update: as we stand, of the 25 Fifa executives involved in the voting for Qatar and Russia 13 have either been banned from football or deemed demonstrably corrupt. Only three have escaped any stain at all. We counted them out. And we counted them back in again – at least the ones who weren’t in prison, banned, dead or hiding.

In between those two World Cups is Euro 2020, which was called as a divvy-up between various host cities at a meeting in Lausanne in 2012. Since then Michel Platini, whose gig this was all along, has been banned from football. His deputy, Ángel María Villar, has been arrested on corruption charges, which he denies. Even the agenda for that Lausanne meeting is a double-take. Item one: Euro 2020 decision. Item two: “Call to make sports fraud a criminal offence.” These guys. The balls on these guys.

And yet what they left us endures, a background music for as far as anyone can see ahead. Vitaly Mutko, who Wada thinks was complicit in state-sponsored doping, will get to hand over the World Cup to some beaming Brazilian/Spaniard/Frenchman/Messi next summer. Platini’s Euros will be played out. Qatar will not relinquish its World Cup, which has become a point of blood-stained and blockaded nation-building honour. Re-gearing Fifa still seems miles away for all the indictments, the censorious Twitter posts (look away for a moment and Gary Lineker’s doing the draws these days).

Beyond that some rich old men will go to prison. The US will continue to take down everyone involved in the decision not to award it 2022, showing previously unheard-of interest in dodgy South American TV deals, discrediting every other body involved and making its first real play in sport as a geopolitical tool since the cold war.

Money and sponsorship demand that we avert our eyes and walk through this for the next five years, a place that, rather than being scoured out, looks stranger and a little more frightening with each fresh glimpse beneath the skin.

The Guardian Sport

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