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Ireland’s Euro 2016 Qualification Victory shows there is no need for FIFA

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In the tightly packed, almost lovingly dilapidated stands of Belfast’s Windsor Park on Thursday night there was no mention of Sepp Blatter. Nor was there any need to pontificate about Platini in Dublin’s Aviva Staduim on the same night. In a week where those who run the world game faced further allegations over their financial misdeeds, the euphoria that erupted in both parts of the island showed that when it comes to the actual football, the fans and players for whom nights of sporting glory mean more than any bung, the sport does not need FIFA.

This is the fact that it seems many in the game have forgotten. While the financial pressure that arrived following the sponsors demands for Blatter to step down is helpful in removing the head of the serpent, a new, equally slippery one will just be waiting to take it’s place. There can be little trust in any meaningful reform of FIFA; when any regime’s idea of self-regulation is an ethics committee comprised of it’s own members, how can there ever be any true change? However this may be something to celebrate, not lament.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if history has shown us anything it is that for something to get better, sometimes it must reach it’s lowest ebb – with FIFA it seems that ebb has arrived. In any other field, be it financial, corporate etc, Blatter’s position would have become untenable a long time ago. We have seen with Volkswagen’s emissions scandals and the resignation of their CEO Martin Winkerton the usual price for leaders who become so embroiled with scandal. And yet Blatter remains; a 90 day slap on the wrist notwithstanding. Blatter is not simply embroiled by scandal, not even merely associated with it – he is defined by it.

Of course he is not alone in this. FIFA was not some utopian, transparent organisation before Blatter; his predecessor Joao Havelange was arguably just as corrupt, and it won’t be after, certainly not in it’s current guise. The writer Victor Hugo once said, “when dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right”, in perhaps no other system has the tyranny, corruption and moral apathy of a dictatorship been more apparent than in Blatter’s FIFA. Maybe revolution has never been so clearly needed.

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It may seem a pipe-dream to imagine a severance of the national footballing associations from FIFA’s ruling body. Indeed such a thing would be extremely difficult, complicated and filled with risk; but then again, all revolutions inherently are. One of the biggest barriers to such a move is the fact that any desire for change seems at the moment almost completely Euro-centric. Mention Sepp Blatter’s name around Africa or Asia and you will get a much different reaction for the man who brought the world’s biggest sporting event, the World Cup, to these continents for the first time (though recent revelations show his motives less than altruistic).

However, it is the European associations that are perhaps the most influential. If UEFA nations were to break off from the rest of FIFA, you can imagine it would only be a matter of time before the other continents joined. A World Cup without the likes of Spain, France, Germany and England would not only be a poorer competition on the field but would be a far less enticing prospect for sponsors off it.

Full and ruthless reform is vital for football. It is not enough to simply make scapegoats of a few notable figures at the top of the food chain, the entire FIFA organisation has a stench attached to all within it. Yes such a process is easier said than done, and yes it could take years and years to convince all parties of the need for change, but there is a secret weapon in the process that many have overlooked- football itself.

For decades FIFA have used the worldwide love of football as their most powerful tool, but it could prove to be their undoing. Just look at the scenes in the streets and pubs of Belfast and Dublin on Thursday night. The unbridled joy at the tiny nation of Northern Ireland qualifying for their first major tournament in 30 years with a win over Greece. The ecstasy and disbelief as the Republic of Ireland, a country where football is arguably the 3rd most popular sport, defeated the World Champions Germany. Here we have 2 nations, with such a fractured and violent past, united for at least one night in joy and victory. FIFA like to claim that they use football to bring the world together – they are wrong; it happens in spite of them.

There is a real sense, a growing momentum, that football desires change. While the questions of when, how, and in what form that change will come is all up for debate, it will certainly require courage and ingenuity in no small part. Football has a tarnished reputation that it must repair; blackmail, bribes and human right abuses have all for too long been swept under a dark and rotten carpet. The good news is they have the perfect opportunity to redeem themselves.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Asian FC

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