In a matter of days, the most anticipated game in world football is upon us. Two juggernauts of domestic football will clash as Juventus take on Barcelona in Berlin to compete for the accolade of being crowned champions of Europe. Some of the greatest players of their generation, and in some cases of all time, will fight it out in what is bound to be one of the most closely contested finals in some years. Fans of the game of all ages and nationalities will be united, albeit from their armchairs, in the emotions unfolding over a tentative 90 minutes in the Olympia stadium.
However the focus of media attention is almost exclusively centered around the events unfolding in Zurich. It is a catastrophic state of affairs when the conduct of the politicians of football has detracted from the beautiful game. Fans and pundits are once again united in demanding justice for the way the governing body has conducted themselves. They want to see those who have tarnished the reputation of a sport followed by 2billion fans held to account and appropriate ramifications brought upon them. And I can't blame them.
I was one of those fans, who along with the billions of fans across the globe, watched in disbelief as the 209 members of FIFA re-elected a President who for 17 years oversaw a delegation riddled with corruption on a massive scale. The message this act purveyed was tragic. As a boy, I idolised the football stars of the day. The spirit of football and fair play was hugely influential not only in my professional career, but in all aspects of my personal life. The same impressionable youngsters were sent a message last week that it is completely acceptable to break the rules, to play dirty, and to escape punishment. I felt ashamed of the sport, not only as a footballer, but more so as a fan.
Many of the FIFA delegates shared my emotions and felt compelled to question their own affiliation with an association where bribery and corruption has become almost commonplace.
David Gill, the former Fifa Vice-President who resigned in protest of Blatter's re-election, was one of them. I had the pleasure of getting to know him during my time at Manchester United. He is by far one of the best football executives in the world, and I presume he thought he could bring the much needed transparency and accountability to FIFA when he replaced Northern Ireland's Jim Boyce on the Executive Committee. He has worked tirelessly to achieve his status in world football, and is a highly respected figure throughout the profession. It is a damming indication of an orgaisation's culture when a figure of David Gill's caliber steps down to protect his own integrity.
It is precisely this integrity which FIFA urgently needs to instill throughout the organization. They need wide raging cultural reform, but they need to do it quietly. I want to see the camera lenses firmly fixed on the events unfolding on the pitch in Berlin rather than the events in Zurich boardrooms. The enormity of the task in hand for FIFA requires support from all those involved in the game whether it be players, managers, agents or unions. My new company, Axis Stars, aims to promote transparency within the profession and give professional athletes a protected ecosystem to undertake contracts and provide sound financial advice. I would hope that this pursuit for transparency, driven by the players of the profession, transcends to those governing it.
World football is in desperate need of individuals such as Gill, Figo, Prince Ali, and Platini to take the reigns of the organisation and guide it to a culture of fairness, transparency and ethical practice. It is imperative for the sake of the sport and the principles the governing body transfer to impressionable youths that these changes are brought about in a timely manner. Cultural change of an organisation is a monumental task, but with the departure of Sepp Blatter I believe the process can now get underway.
We can now only hope that there is a smooth transition of office to whoever is the newly elected president. Prince Ali had the courage of his convictions to stand against Blatter, and for the sake of the game we either need him or someone of his mindset and diligence to lead the organisation through what will be a difficult period. The profession needs to integrate new technologies to bring about this new era. The once guarded and elusive ranks of the FIFA delegation need to engage more proactively with its stakeholders and bring long needed accountability and authority. In this new post-Blatter era, FIFA would do well to live up to their motto: For the Game. For the World.
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