THE BLOG

Reclaiming the People's Game

04/06/2015 18:01 BST | Updated 04/06/2016 10:59 BST

Across the world, people are celebrating the news that Sepp Blatter is finally leaving. The 79-year-old ran the game like an oligarch and extracted cash from it like a leech.

His is a legacy many would like to forget. Demanding that no tax was paid on any tournament, which cost Brazil $250 million last year, and urging countries to build white elephant stadia like Green Point in Cape Town or Cuiaba Stadium in Brazil, that no one needed.

Blatter lived in a bubble. Such was his messiah complex that his great ambition remained for recognition by the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela, Tutu, Martin Luther King ... Sepp Blatter? While there is recognition for contributions toward peace, science and literature, there is as yet no award for corruption.

With the Blatter era now closing, there are three critical changes that now must be considered to make Fifa more legitimate, responsive and accountable.

First, the fans need to be at the heart of the game, not stuck on the sidelines. Right now, the game of football is a game run by sponsors for a TV audience, yes fans bring the atmosphere but their interests are the last to be considered. To date, supporters have not organised their power, their voice and their demands. That time has now come.

We can already see the first glimpses of this - particularly in Germany - with cooperatives running clubs. This is now growing in Britain, with FC United and the Football Fans Network showing how that this change is now coming at the grassroots. This is now growing upwards. Last week when over 700,000 fans backed the Avaaz campaign calling for Blatter to resign -- making it probably the biggest football petition in history -- we saw how this call for change is rippling across the world.

This is the best crisis football has ever had, we have to capitalise on it. Fans must have a seat at the ExCo table, they should be able to listen to a caucus and vote with their red button for who should follow Blatter, a say in the cost and access to tournaments and with an ombudsman appointed to scrutinise the performance of each national FA.

Second, the vice-like grip of sponsors and broadcasters who have a grip over our game needs to be released. Brands like Coca Cola, McDonalds and Adidas helped make Sepp Blatter. But what is happening in Fifa - where crony capitalism is in charge, money talks and votes are bought - is mirrored in democracies around the world. The US election will parade this in all it's glory when over $5billion is poured in, with companies desperate for their candidate to win.

Sadly, this corporate capture isn't just a phenomena alive and kicking in the governments, boardrooms and bureaucrats. It can also be seen in how players are captured and gagged by clubs, agents and sponsorship deals that shy away of any sniff of controversy.

Last week at Avaaz, we contacted over 200 players' agents, asking if their representatives would speak out on Qatar. Only five responded with many saying "we don't do politics" or "I can't touch this" and more worryingly "I can get you five signatures for £1500, but we'd want cash up front". The silence last week of players who claim to love the sport which made them millionaires was deafening. But the courageous players that did speak out should be applauded.

Finally, Fifa has to stop the horrific side-effects of where they decide to send their tournaments. Inside Qatar, migrant workers are plying their trade in slave-like conditions with their passports confiscated, the opportunity to leave their employer denied and working in 40ºC heat.

Over 800,000 people have demanded action on this and last week, the Qataris agreed to meet with Avaaz to discuss this further. This is positive, but it has been an uphill battle with the likes of construction giants like CH2M as yet more interested in profits than the conditions workers endure on the ground.

But retrofitting enhanced human rights law into tournaments shouldn't be necessary. Basic standards for the people that put on the show have to be considered up front during the bidding process.

The cliche of football being the beautiful game is true, but tragically many of the people who run it have an ugly obsession with cash and power. The end of Blatter's era gives us a precious opportunity to change this and bring the game back to the favelas, slums and homes of people who love the game around the world. We, the people, can't afford not to take it.