It's time for Fifa to widen the playing field

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am


Ordinarily, apologies to the public are made by politicians or other public figures who have been elevated to a special status and therefore owe the general public a measure of accountability. These days sportsmen, and in particular professional soccer players, seem to be the ones apologising most often. This is an indication both of the elevated status of the sport and its professionals and of how often they fail to live up to public expectations. Soccer thrives on being a fundamental part of people's lives and yet, now that it has achieved such a status, it seems to be uncomfortable at having to conduct itself under the scrutiny that comes with it.

On June 1, the congress of Fifa, the sport's world governing body, elects its next president. Sepp Blatter, who has held the position since 1998, will face the challenge of Mohamed bin Hammam, chief of the Asian Football Confederation. It will be a battle between two members rooted in the Fifa hierarchy. However, the public demands that the election is competitive, with campaigns that not only seek the votes of the 208 association voters but show a vision of a fairer, more transparent Fifa receptive to the opinions of the paying public and with a clear strategy for using its resources for good causes.

Undeniably, soccer is a hugely influential part of many people's lives, and decisions about where to host the four-yearly Fifa World Cup can affect national economies. The paying public may not be able to vote, but the candidates should nevertheless encourage greater debate about the public's expectations of Fifa. These cover not only the rules of the game and goal-line technologies but bigger questions about the status of soccer in society.

Should there be greater emphasis on how professionals conduct themselves? Should Fifa play an even greater part in articulating the distinction between fierce, but friendly competition and sectarianism and intolerance? Often, the players and Fifa appear not to know the answer. It is time Fifa used this chance for public debate to define itself more clearly.