Tim Noonan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 October, 2010, 12:00am

I am not a guy who laughs easily. You have to resist an obvious joke, which is why a good chuckle has to be earned. But these days I am rolling in the aisles thanks to our good friends at Fifa (Federation Internationale de Football Association). As caretakers of international football, Fifa controls the most valuable property in sports in the World Cup. As such, it is the supreme power broker. When a city hosts an Olympics, it gets 17 days of unprecedented global exposure. But when a country hosts a World Cup, it has the eyes of the world on the entire nation, not just one city, for over a month.

Billions of dollars are spent on upgrading infrastructure. From airports and train lines to stadiums and training grounds, the legacy of hosting a World Cup lasts for years. Naturally, the stakes to host this event are staggering, which is why it should come as little surprise that allegations of vote buying and corruption in the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups have ensnared two members of Fifa's executive committee. Both Nigeria's Amos Adamu and Tahiti's Reynald Temarii were allegedly caught saying - to writers from The Sunday Times posing as American interests - they would accept money to secure their vote. Adamu wanted US$800,000 while Temarii sought US$2.3 million to build 'football foundations'. The US is competing with Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea in the race for 2022, while England, Russia and joint bids by Belgium-Holland and Spain-Portugal vie for 2018.

The revelations prompted Fifa to provisionally suspend both while it conducts an investigation. 'Football is a game with good and bad moments and players but it is our responsibility to protect football from manipulation and bad image,' Fifa president Sepp Blatter said. 'The good side is there is immediate reaction by our ethics committee.' Fifa, an ethics committee? Now that is some seriously funny stuff, and just in the nick of time because I need a damn good laugh.

Fifa's clandestine actions and back-room deals have even made the International Olympic Committee (IOC) look reputable and transparent, a feat which may be harder than splitting the atom. Faced with scandal after scandal under autocratic leader Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC had no choice but to restructure its executive constitution after it was revealed that officials accepted millions in bribes and 'gifts' from the organisers of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics bid. Ten IOC members were expelled and another 10 were sanctioned but even that came about only after some IOC corporate sponsors, the organisation's lifeblood, threatened to pull out unless changes were made. Regardless of how inspiring the athletic performances may be during the Olympics, imagine spending the millions upon millions these blue-chip companies do so you can inherit the odious stench of the imperious and corrupt IOC? Money talks and after years of vigilance the IOC is cleaning up.

That same money is oddly silent when it comes to Fifa, though. No talk yet of sponsors demanding Fifa clean up its act but I am not sure who would be leading that charge. It certainly won't be Visa. The credit card giant signed a deal in 2007 to be the exclusive card of the World Cup. There was only one problem: Fifa already had an exclusive credit card sponsor. After MasterCard successfully sued for a breach of contract, Fifa was forced to pay US$90 million to settle with its old partner. Maybe Fifa just tacked it on to Visa's bill and wouldn't that be the ultimate irony, Visa being stuck with a dubious billing charge.

The list of grievances, accusations and flat-out nasty business deals under the stewardship of Blatter is far too long, not to mention potentially libellous, to mention. But to get a better idea of the culture that is endemic to Fifa, we should look at the people who represent and perpetuate this culture. There is a reason the Times people set up their bait for Adamu and Temeraii, as opposed to the other 24 voting members on Fifa's executive committee such as icons Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini.

Adamu has long been renowned in his country for his, uhm, extracurricular affairs. He was abruptly removed from his duties as director general of Nigeria's National Sports Commission a few years back when tales of his corruption reached the ears of the president. Do you realise what it takes to be removed from a high-ranking job in Nigeria for corruption and mismanagement? Nigeria is conceded to be one of the most politically corrupt countries, where the government has accrued billions of dollars in oil revenues while tens of millions of people live in poverty and critics are silenced. And Adamu was too risque for them so he had to go back to his day job with Fifa as one of the people who will vote on where the next two World Cups will be played? No, of course there are no red flags going up here, Mr Blatter.

'I was a little bit surprised that you say Fifa is corrupt,' Blatter said to a questioner on announcing his suspensions of Adamu and Temeraii. 'Trust us and you will see confidence restored.' Ah cut it out Sepp, you're killing me! High comedy this, Robin Williams in his prime has nothing on you. Sadly, it looks like the laughs will keep coming and nothing will be funnier than December 2 when Fifa announces the two most 'worthy bids' who will be the World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022.