Cricket administration as we know it in India has been sent for a six by the country’s apex court. Almost 48 hours after the order, the hosannas can still be heard loud and clear.
Time will tell how the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) handles such chin music. But the scale and scope of unfair play that international sport has seen over time would make the charges of opacity, cronyism and political influence against BCCI seem like, well, it’s not quite cricket.
‘Rampant, systemic and deep-rooted’
Football is a good place to start though when it comes to Fifa, its world body, it’s difficult to say where exactly a good place is. Reams have been written on corruption in high places at Fifa, that Loretta Lynch, the USA’s attorney general, described as “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted.”
That’s an appropriate description considering the sweep of charges covered Sepp Blatter, who presided over Fifa for 17 years, to his cronies across continents --- in the case of former Argentina football association president Julio Grondona it was posthumous --- business barons and top officials at football’s apex body. Not without reason did an image of a comedian throwing fake dollars at Sepp Blatter before a media conference go viral last year.
And Blatter was no bureaucrat or minister; he was a former Adidas employee who joined Fifa in 1975. That was one year after football took first steps into being a multi-billion dollar industry with Joao Havelange ending former international referee Stanley Rous’ 13-year reign as president. Havelange teamed with Horst Dassler of Adidas and they showed football the potential of sponsorship. When Blatter succeeded Havelange, television rights for three World Cup finals were going for $2.2 billion (R 14784 crore approximately now). And that was excluding the USA!
In 2012, Havelange and his businessman son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira were charged with taking millions as bribes. Teixeira ran the Brazilian football federation for 23 years.
Before the crackdown on Fifa last year, Mohamed bin Hammam had been banned by it; the Qatari businessman’s fall following a bribery scandal as spectacular as his rise. He was instrumental in getting Qatar the 2022 World Cup, the story of his manipulations documented by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert in ‘The Ugly Game’.
A self-made billionaire, bin Hammam was an industrialist who rode Qatar’s economic boom. At a time when no one quite knew what football was in Qatar, bin Hammam had fallen in love with the game. And suffered as a result.
Among those nailed in the clean-up Fifa campaign was Chuck Blazer who lived in a tony New York high rise. Fifa was picking up his rent and restaurant bills and as secretary-general of Concacaf, which runs football in North and Central America and the Caribbean, he was accused of making millions in illegal commissions. In 2013, Blazer, who rose through the ranks as a football administrator, pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
Unlike Blazer, bin Hammam, Teixeira, Grondona and Jack Warner, Michel Platini was a footballer, one good enough to win three successive Ballon D’Or awards and lead France to glory in the 1984 European championship. The tournament’s expanded avatar was his idea but like bin Hammam is likely to be in 2022, Platini was forced to stay away from Euro 2016 having been felled by 2 million Swiss Francs he received from Fifa. Nepal FA president and former national team skipper Ganesh Thapa has been banned for 10 years for bribery. Thapa, who played in Bangladesh and India, was also a vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation.
Lamine Diack too was champion long-jumper who took over the International Associations of Athletic Federations (IAAF) after Primo Nebiolo died in 1989. His 16-year reign was marred by corrupt deals that involved his sons and ran into millions of dollars. The Guardian described the trio as “running an audacious shadow operation that grasped opportunity where ever it came.”
Then author John Foot devoted 62 pages on scandals in Italian football in the book ‘Calcio’. The chapter starts with a quote that says ‘In Italy we have never heard of fair play’. The whole Calciopoli scandal blew up in 2006 leading to a string of businessmen, football officials and top referee Massimo de Santis being punished and reigning Serie A champions Juventus relegated.
Berlusconi finds time
Football and politicians though have a long history in Italy the most famous being Silvio Berlusconi who found time to be the prime minister, partake in ‘bunga bunga’ parties and decide on how his team AC Milan would play though not necessarily in that order.
In Spain, Barcelona president Josep Sunyol was part of a left-wing Catalan movement. It was during his reign that legendary midfielder Joseph Samitier was wooed back to Barcelona. Sunyol was shot dead in 1936 by General Franco’s troops during the Spanish Civil War. At the other end of the Spanish political divide was former Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabeau, who was a player at the club and proudly claimed to have fought in the ‘reconquest’ of Catalonia for Franco.
One of Franco’s ministers also made a hugely successful career as a sport administrator though it is as a journalist that Juan Antonio Samaranch is also remembered in Catalonia. Reporting for a Spanish newspaper on a match which Barcelona lost 1-11 to Real Madrid, Samaranch had criticised the intimidating atmosphere that led to Barca giving up, as mentioned in Jimmy Burns’ book ‘Barca’. Samaranch was elected to the Barcelona city council as well and it was under his watch that the Olympic Games grew hugely. It was also in his time that a bribery scandal over bidding for cities to host Games blew up.
Till he was checkmated by the USA’s sanctions last year, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Kalmykia’s multi-lingual president, later implicated in the Panama Papers scandal too, was the president of the world chess federation for 20 years. Ilyumzhinov is set to contest the USA’s charge. For chess, he invested millions and unified a fractured world championship that endures till date. And he built a Chess City complex reportedly worth $100m (R 672 crore approximately now) for the 1998 Chess Olympiad.
Nearly 150 years ago, Lord Acton had said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” True, the association between politics and scoundrels was made by George Bernard Shaw but when it comes to sport administrators, they certainly don’t seem to be the only ones.