Is Fifa’s Sleaze Destroying Football?

The Brazil World Cup, which started over a week ago, continues to throw up surprises. Many smaller nations and relative newcomers have already caused result upsets. The old order was shaken to its core on Wednesday after Spain, the reigning World Champions, were unceremoniously dumped from the competition by Chile, while England met an early exit after a spanking by another New World upstart Uruguay. It is refreshing to see just how much things have changed for world football in the past few decades, despite being governed by Fifa, an organisation now more associated with words like, outdated, intransigence and of course sleaze.

While the world has changed and greater openness and transparency in most things is expected, Fifa have actually gone backwards to the point that they could almost be regarded as a byzantine throwback, such are their convoluted systems, intrigues and secret ballots, designed specifically to allow a hand full of the old order to retain the reins of power. So the charges and accusations piling up against Fifa were almost inevitable.

If asked to list the current issues and accusations facing Fifa in any kind of order, I would struggle to even begin, simply because of the sheer number. Of course the outstandingly stupid award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar must surely rank near the top but there are also a lot of unanswered questions about the way Russia was awarded the 2018 Cup. Anyway, as I said – far too many issues to list so please watch this very funny, yet factual YouTube, which will give you a true flavour of the broader issues facing Fifa:

Ever since the arrival of Satellite TV companies and their rivers of cash, Fifa has been auctioning off the very soul of football for vast profit. Long gone are the days when this None for Profit organisation depended, almost entirely on handouts and donations from the worlds various leagues and regional governing bodies because in this Cup year alone their income is thought to be heading for somewhere in the region of about $2.3 billion. This on top of over $1 Billion they hold in the bank, despite being None for Profit – what kind of “Rainy Day” are they expecting to be stashing away that amount of money?

Photo by Wbeem

Of course money doesn’t just allow the executives in charge of a company to pay themselves fabulous wages. If you refuse to improve accountability and transparency, especially in an organisation where too many past and present executives have already been sacked for dabbling in the twin curses of greed and corruption, you are simply asking for trouble.

So what, you may ask, has Fifa done about accountability and transparency since it was transformed from the games poor relation into a bloated behemoth, awash with cash? The short answer is very little, indeed there is a sense that a new “Loads of Money!” arrogance arrived with that new money, which has now fostered a very unfortunate attitude. So now if you ever challenged Fifa, they far too often respond along the lines of Who are you to question what we do, when only we know what is best for the game? This same arrogance has perversely helped those in charge at Fifa feel they need to be less accountable and as for transparency, what company in the world earning such vast amounts, would tolerate the use of secret ballots? Secret ballots not only for the selection of the next countries to host the World Cup, but also for the key jobs within the organisation from the position of president downwards.

If we look for one reason little has changed at Fifa, we need look no further than to the incumbent President – Sepp Blatter. A man who has presided over Fifa for most of the past two decades, a man with the arrogance to nominate himself for yet another term as President in the very teeth of what will soon be regarded as Fifa’s biggest storm: the Qatar sleaze scandal.

Photo by Calcio Streaming

Only if you are a Fifa Executive or someone who has lived on a distant planet could you deny that Fifa urgently needs a root and branch reform of all of its systems and methods. However, what it definitely does not need is yet another reform review carried out by Fifa insiders, surreptitiously presided over by the old order, or a reform carried out by an Independent company, who are prepared to do nothing more than window dressing, because it’s Independence only exist as far back as its secret Swiss bank account, which recently received a quite substantial cash payment from a mysterious gentleman, wearing a false beard, who called himself Bepp Slatter!

Then what? What will happens after the old order are put out to pasture, as they surely must. Who will run Fifa then? The clever money is on one of two long established football legends to take over: Franz Beckenbauer, who lifted the World Cup not only as a player but also as a manager; and Michel Platini, the hero of French football and current president of the European governing body Uefa. And yet, despite the unquestioned skills of these stars, we must ask some serious questions of both. On the top of the list of questions for Mr Beckenbauer is: why have you so totally refused to answer any questions given to you in both German and English by the people investigating the alleged corruption at the heart of the Qatar bid, that you have now been banned from any football related activity for 90 day? Then for Mr Platini: What on earth motivated you to vote for such a ridiculous choice as Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, before going on to endlessly criticise the decision through your position within Uefa? Gentlemen we all make mistakes but you had all the facts for months if not years before you made your bad choices.

Anyway, the World Cup rolls on for another few weeks, so perhaps we should simply try and enjoy the spectacle while it last. But once the celebrations are finally over, we must not only see the investigation into the Qatar bid continue, but use its inevitably damning findings as a lever for a real root and branch reform within Fifa. Nothing less should be acceptable now when the very future of world football depends on it.


Future Technologies and Us

Crypto-Currency Roller Coaster
When I last spoke about Bitcoin back in January the price was sat in the $900 region. After something of a nose dive due in part to the shutdown of major exchange MTGOX and the concern over potential regulation of crypto-currencies in China, the price has started to climb once again. Whether sustained growth and indeed mass adoption is viable for Bitcoin depends on whether the currency can outgrow attempts to regulate it, as well as how well it can perform against other crypto-currencies.

Photo by Jonathan Waller

All it takes is the right level of innovation, marketing and a subsequently wide-enough spread of adoption for another crypto-currency to come along and become the online transaction currency. In fact such a successor may have already been released. With a shorter transaction time and strong development support Litecoin is often touted as the silver to Bitcoins gold. However this reputation may be under threat from other candidates such as the environmentally friendly NxtCoin and anonymity-centered Darkcoin. Perhaps alluding to the growing interest in anonymity since last summers revelations about wide-spread government mass surveillance, Darkcoin has seen a huge surge in price rising more than 2000% in a month recently. In the short term if Bitcoin itself does not incorporate more anonymity into it’s code we may see the world of crypto-currencies split into two distinct camps, those built around anonymity and those that aren’t.

I don’t expect mass-adoption to occur in the next few years, in fact it may be decades before a regular usage of crypto-currencies occurs by even a fraction of the worlds population. However, if government tampering doesn’t kill the likes of Bitcoin first we may see the frankly outdated model of physical currency in the shape of coins and notes finally replaced.

Wearables or Status Symbols?
From being the first company to mass-produce the modern desktop operating system successfully to the iPhone and iPad, Apple under Steve Jobs had a history of introducing products that we didn’t even know we needed at the time. Since the passing of Steve Jobs the world of tech has watched the Cupertino company for signs of new innovation and rumours of a smartwatch have persisted, with signs that a launch later this year may be on the cards.

Concept by Philipp Zumtobel

It easy to remain skeptical on this side of launch on whether such a concept could be successful. Is there really an appetite for this in a world where smart phones seem to be ultimately expanding in terms of screen real-estate? Does a two inch squared screen-based device really make much sense, especially considering the lack of precision that would come with using a finger as a stylus on such a small device? How much email could you realistically bear to get through on a screen of this size? Looking at possible features the potential integration of the Siri personal assistant to such a device isn’t much of a feature as, for most people, Siri still remains in his/her infancy. A mapping feature may be useful for some, however this and with the rumoured integration of biometric sensors can surely only be considered novelty features at present.

With what will presumably be called the iWatch you have to wonder if the concept is about providing something that the consumer really requires, or if Apple are pandering to those looking for status symbol technology. It could be argued that there is very little market appetite for such a device, with the types of people who are drawn to watches likely to only want to buy traditional watches. But again, as mentioned, Apple have a history of introducing products that people didn’t even know we wanted, so who knows…

Turn On, Switch Off
I spoke a few weeks ago about the extent to which modern technology is being used to distract toddlers. With the increasing infiltration of smartphones and tablets into modern homes (and often schools) the generation born this decade are arguably the first to experience the age of the omnipresent interactive screen.

Photo by Alec Couros

In Archives of Disease in Childhood psychologist Dr Aric Sigman claims that there are a number of ways in which young people are negatively effected by such a reality. The obvious links between the sedentary lifestyle of those consumed by constantly interacting with screens are made, such as increased risk of heart disease, stoke and diabetes. However, due to the dopamine inducing nature of interacting with modern screen-based technology, the risk of dependancy is very real. We seem oblivious to this risk and as Dr Sigman puts it: “Perhaps because screen time is not a dangerous substance or a visibly risky activity, it has eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract.”

Not only does this addiction to devices cause a threat to the natural social bonding experiences that children in early years need, but as the internet infiltrates daily life for children as they grow, this too can have a detrimental effect on social development and cause a sense of social isolation. In the early days of the world wide web a study by Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that an individuals sense of happiness and social inclusion declined over a year or two after going online for the first time, as a result of their interaction with the internet.

As children grow up and become engaged with social media in its future forms, it might be tempting to think that this is a medium that can be used to become more engaged with others. However research into social media by University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross suggests that those that are most engaged with Facebook, in particular, are more likely to feel isolated and less happy as a result. During the course of two weeks Kross and his colleagues sent text messages five times a day to eighty-two subjects asking them how they felt and how engaged with real-word social ties they were. The results found that those who used Facebook in-between texts felt less happy and that these subjects, over the two-week period, saw their satisfaction decline the most.

Ultimately it is our responsibility to keep children encouraged to participate with real world social activities. We should also exercise a certain amount of caution in how much usage children have of modern gadgets, using parental controls if necessary, as this is the guinea pig generation for what the effects of overindulgence might be.