Book Review: Football, Corruption and Lies

Posted by on Jan 3, 2017 in Book Review | No Comments
Book Review: Football, Corruption and Lies
Image available under Creative Commons (c) Kinolamp

Football, Corruption and Lies
by John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson
Published by Routledge
2017, £19.99

So FIFA is corrupt. As observations go, it’s up there with the assertion that there are a few cars on the M25 – but, as with all truisms, it’s cathartic to explore to just how great a degree the blindingly obvious is true and why it is so.

Football Corruption and Lies is essentially a reissue of a 2003 book from University of Brighton academics John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson that charted the ins and outs or world football politics in the late nineties and early noughties, originally released to deserved acclaim by Mainstream Publishing in 2003.

Here, the original text is bookended by a ‘prequel’ that underlines the continuing relevance of the study as well as selective exploration of events between 2002 and 2016, the year that many of FIFA’s chickens headed for the roosting perch, as well as a hasty and not entirely pessimistic assessment of the start of the Gianni Infantino era.

It could be said that the reissued nature of the material constitutes its main weakness — although the main events and impulses of FIFA’s history are well worth a refresher account. ‘Old news’ this may be but the tale of the organisation’s beginnings, its proto-colonial nature under Stanley Rous, the rise of Joà£o Havelange, internationalisation and the rise of the marketing men is told in quickfire journalistic prose that is very unlike what one would usually come across in an academic book.

The material from the original volume only begins to pall when the labyrinthine machinations of various leadership bids, elections and lobbying of the 1998-2002 period are recounted. All fascinating, all pertinent, but the authors might have spent their time better on a brand new book that details the post-2002 period — indeed, they may well be doing so.

Still, this is a sharp piece of work with especially strong chapters on topics including the way ticket distribution systems for the French and Korean/Japanese World Cups allowed (mostly English) touts to prosper, the glittering hallways and banqueting suites of the so-called ‘FIFA Club and juicy anecdotes aplenty.

These include a youthful Havelange eulogising German efficiency on a trip to the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin, mind numbing instances of attempts to win votes and the sequence of embarrassments that was England’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup. The latter history is especially skilfully told — and is strengthened by the authors’ refusal to self-flagellate — England’s was the best bid, they contest — but there was a naivete to the bidders’ approach that was only made worse by half-hearted attempts to beat others at their own game once the penny dropped.

At root, the English media’s antipathy towards FIFA is well founded and justified but its context is colonialism – as espoused by Rous who as late as 1973 was still backing apartheid era South Africa to be allowed back into the international fold — and the way Havelange and Sepp Blatter adroitly courted the countries of the developing world — ironically, it had been Havelange himself who had once suggested to Rous that the ‘one country, one vote’ system should be replaced before he ended up fully using the status quo to his advantage.

This North v South element has to be engaged with if one is truly to engage with the whole broken system as well as Blatter’s ‘Goal’ initiative which has ploughed development money into the coffers of nations with lesser infrastructure, in Oceania in particular. Infantino’s 48 team World Cup proposal, which came too late to be analysed here, is a very clever piece of positioning in that it will allow more countries from Asia, Africa and CONCACAF to compete while pleasing the European club lobby as World Cup qualification becomes ever more of a formality.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

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