Boycott FIFA’s sponsors and have a fan-led Soccer Spring

It’s hard to see that there is anything positive to be found in the fiasco that is FIFA right now. Only the whistle-blowers who went to Chuck Blazer and showed him the $40,000 in cash that Mohamad bin Hammam tried to bribe them with come out with any credit. Jack Warner, who seemed to be acting as facilitator, and bin Hammam were suspended and then Blazer was in turn sacked and reinstated. Sepp Blatter who has for decades presided over a secretive culture of back-room deals sails serenely on, winning a further term of office as president by default because bin Hammam had withdrawn after the bribery scandal hit the world’s media. Even the English Football Association come away looking clueless and out of their depth because all the other delegates rallied round Blatter. Well, of course they’d rally round him, it’s a magnificent gravy train they’re all on and he’s the train driver.

It’s the way they rally round that’s interesting. In each case during the so-called Arab Spring, the despot has a coterie of loyalists who in many cases are more hardline than the despot himself. At some stage there is a tipping point where members of his inner circle desert him, or gather their courage together and tell him he has to go. That happened in Tunisia and Egypt, but it’s not happening yet in Libya, Syria or Yemen. If we substitute brown envelopes stuffed with cash for tanks and bullets, might we have a parallel between FIFA and certain Arab countries? How can Blatter be deposed? Will his coterie turn against him? Can we look forward to a Soccer Spring?

We can, because there is a further element involved: The sponsors. Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai-Kia Motors, Sony, and VISA pump many millions of dollars into FIFA and they do it for one reason only: to win favour with the world’s consumers. Withdraw that favour and their money is wasted. Worse, if association with FIFA is seen in a negative light it could even be damaging. Just look how quickly sponsors withdraw from any event that is suddenly a PR disaster. This FIFA fiasco is a PR disaster of major proportions, we just have to let the sponsors know.

The cumulative effects of trivial cheating

There are two stories in the New York Times today which illustrate the scope and scale of the problem we have with corruption. This isn’t about America where these stories happen to come from, we have the same problem in the UK. It’s about our collective inability to “do the right thing” and our willingness to cheat even at the most banal level. Take the first story:

Texas Passes Bill to Make Some Fish Tales a Crime

That is rather a misleading headline, which is ironic given what I’m writing about. The story is not about people in pubs who idly brag about the size of some fish they caught, it is specifically about cheating in fishing tournaments:

Senator Glenn Hegar, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said it was intended to address cheating in high-level bass fishing tournaments, some of which offer tens of thousands of dollars in prizes. In one notorious case in 2009, an angler who entered the Bud Light Trail Big Bass Tournament on Lake Ray Hubbard, east of Dallas, put a one-pound lead weight inside the stomach of the 10.49-pound bass he had entered to win the grand prize, a $55,000 fishing boat.

“Some people are literally taking scissors and cutting off the tail of a fish to make it fit into a certain category,” Mr. Hegar said. “Unfortunately, they’re not playing by the rules.”

Trimming a fish tail with scissors? That’s cheating at a pretty trivial level, but when you scale it up and involve a large number of people all willing to cheat on what they may each regard as a trivial level, then we have this problem:

Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire investor who once ran one of the world’s largest hedge funds, was found guilty on Wednesday of fraud and conspiracy by a federal jury in Manhattan

As the article explains:

What made Mr. Rajaratnam stand out was not his proprietary computer models nor his skills in security analysis. Instead, colleagues marveled at the deep set of contacts he had cultivated inside Silicon Valley executive suites and on Wall Street trading floors.

All of these people he cultivated were willing to blur the edges or even cross over the line completely. They knew right from wrong. Yet had Rajaratnam had only one or two contacts willing to cheat he could not possibly have had the success he had, but he had hundreds of them all willing to cheat. How absurd would it be if every contestant in a fishing tournament cheated on the same level as well? It becomes a farce.

There is a growing problem in society with people willing to cheat, to get an edge if they think they’ll get away with it, and it’s becoming farcical.

It’s long past time to put some moral standards back into our lives.