FIFA and fair play

Greeks must be among the less excited observers of the ferocious crackdown on the highest echelons of global soccer’s administrative body, FIFA: from the lowest leagues to our top teams, from friendlies to finals, we approach games with an inflammable mix of naive expectation and weary cynicism.

This is both the beauty and the curse of these games – despite countless disappointments, fans still hope; yet, suspecting that the game is rigged, they have to hope that not only is theirs the better team but its management is also able to defeat the other’s devious machinations. There are few complaints from a winning team’s fans when it may seem to have enjoyed an unfair advantage, whereas losers cry foul even when the result is clearly just.

When Swiss police, acting on US corruption indictments and on a Swiss probe, arrested top executives of FIFA as they gathered for a congress in Zurich, Greek prosecutors were already a month into their latest investigation into charges of rampant corruption in Greek soccer. The allegations include the establishment of a “criminal organization” that determined who was in charge of soccer, which teams would win, how money and influence would be spread around, and so on. A separate probe involves match-fixing. Whereas the probe into FIFA appears to be based mainly on top officials exploiting their position and selling their vote to the highest bidder, Greece’s corruption is inspired both by influence-peddling and by the dark temptations of betting – legal and illegal.

Human nature urges us to achieve an advantage against an opponent. Whether we are dealing with weeds in a vegetable patch, with illness, with rivals in business, love or war, we do all that we can to survive, to get ahead. Just as in our fields, when we choose to poison weeds we have to draw the line at poisoning ourselves, civilization is a complex effort to keep ourselves from falling into the trap of eternal conflict with each other. Sports are among civilization’s finest achievements, and soccer, the global game, is a wonderful metaphor. We see that for talent to shine, we must have a playing field that is absolutely even – where the same rules apply to all, where the administration is fair and just. But from a game in Greece’s lowest league to global politics, we humans always suspect a plot. The game is rigged, the cards are marked. Inevitably, Russians suggested that the FIFA probe was US subterfuge aimed at Russia’s hosting the World Cup in 2018.

Soccer, or any other sport, cannot survive without clear rules which allow players and fans to hope for an even chance. The white line marks the field of play, where specific laws apply and must be seen to apply, even when in our daily lives we know that they do not. For decades, FIFA drew its own lines of imperial independence and set its own rules. Whatever the American motives, a cleanup now may give hope the edge over disillusion and anger in the world’s beloved game.

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