The Fall of the House of Fifa
By David Conn
Yellow Jersey Press, 2017
Where did it all go so wrong for Fifa? In his excellent new book, Guardian journalist David Conn argues that there were two major turning points in the descent into corruption and scandal. The first was 1974, the year that Conn watched his very first World Cup tournament at the age of nine. It was the year of Johann Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, but it was also the year that Brazilian João Havelange took over from Englishman Sir Stanley Rous as Fifa President. It spelt the end of conservatism and the beginning of lucrative globalisation.
The second turning point came 36 years later, 2nd December 2010 to be precise. On that day in Zurich, the Fifa executive committee awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Once this shocking decision and its origins were revealed, the Fifa house of cards began to fall, crook by crook. First Mohamed bin Hammam, Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer in 2011, then João Havelange, Nicolás Leoz and Jeff Webb in 2015 and finally Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in 2016. Fifa’s dramatic downfall is described in at times overwhelming detail; every date, every figure, every committee report.
When it comes to Fifa’s main characters, Conn paints admirably balanced portraits. This is easier for Rous and Havelange but more difficult for Warner, Blazer and Blatter. ‘Blatter was a master of playing the electorate, and the Fifa system’, one of the interviewees explains. But as the charges build up, Conn grows bolder. Fifa becomes ‘a granite headquarters of delusion and bluster’, where ‘journalists were denounced as liars for writing the truth about a corruption scandal’. Like the rest of us, he is disgusted by the ‘multiple layers of shame…the awful, stinking truths’.
Yet Conn is far from the first writer to investigate the Fifa corruption. So much is already known about the organisation’s endemic culture of bribery, so what does The Fall of the House of Fifa add to the conversation? Firstly, genuine insight. Despite rejections from the likes of Platini, Warner and Webb, Conn’s book includes direct quotes from key figures including Chuck Blazer, Independent Governance Committee Chairman Mark Pieth and, best of all, Sepp Blatter. Other highlights include revealing details about England’s 2018 World Cup bid.
Secondly, Conn’s book explores a couple of very important conflicts within Fifa. The first of these is between Europe and the rest of the world. Blatter and co courted the developing countries for votes but then happily hung them out to dry. Faced with the scandals, Fifa for a long time played up to their victim status, blaming the bribery on football federations from ‘another world, another morality’, notably Africa and the Americas. However, the fall of Blatter and Platini revealed ‘the truth that the corruption of Fifa was secured in Europe, in Zurich, Switzerland’.
The second conflict is between the football chiefs and football people. The book draws attention to the lavish lifestyles of Fifa’s executive committee members, ‘the whole shameless, excessive, different planet these football chiefs inhabited and helped themselves to, from exploiting the people’s game’. Conn has contempt for these greedy businessmen. But he is most disappointed about Platini and Beckenbauer, the heroes of the game, the men who are supposed to be football people like us.