Nobody wants a visit from the Normalisation Committee. This was the fate of the Samoan FA in June 2008 after concerns were raised about the state of its finances. At which point Fifa fired up the corvette and sent in its platoon of tuxedoed Mr Fix-its.
Let’s be clear. Nobody wants a visit from this Normalisation Committee. The team of high moral priests sent to the Samoan FA’s door that day were handpicked by a specially convened Fifa emergency committee, a delegation that read, in no particular order: Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, Issa Hayatou, Michel Platini, Reynald Temarii, Mohammad bin Hammam and Nicolás Leoz.
Or to give them their full Seven Dwarves-style nicknames: Six Year Ban Guy, Criminal Charges Guy, TV Rights Fine Guy, Dishonest Payment Guy, Eight Year Ban Guy, Life Ban Guy and of course everyone’s favourite crime-fighting administrator, Interpol Red Notice Guy. Here they come, the lads: a perfumed kerchief held to their noses, here to de-corrupt your football association.
Twelve years on the Samoa emergency committee is arguably one of the best jokes modern football has ever come up with. Just how abnormal do you have to be to require this degree of normalising? But then these were the golden years of footballing chicanery, when the yak-hide handbags flowed like wine and when Fifa could basically do as it wished.
The anomaly was that Samoa fought back. In a rare show of resistance the Samoan FA appealed to the court of arbitration for sport. It didn’t work. The appeal was rejected and the good times continued to roll at Fifa house, reaching a peak with the bribe-shadowed World Cup bid decisions that would prove an act of hubris even for that thoroughly debauched regime.
And so to the present day. Replace one bald, unctuous Swiss with a slightly younger bald, unctuous Swiss and something similar is happening in the Caribbean, a test case for where we may be heading in the struggle for the heart, soul and wallet of world football.
The Trinidad & Tobago FA experienced its own visit from the Fifa Normalisers in March after another shemozzle over debt. Like Samoa the TTFA has fought back. Another appeal has been lodged at Cas, this time via crowdfunded legal action.
Fifa’s move does seem bizarrely aggressive. The deposed TTFA committee had been in place for only four months, having seen off Gianni Infantino’s favoured candidate David John-Williams in a local vote.
The TTFA board member Keith Look Loy has accused Fifa of acting like “a colonial absentee landlord”. The former Newcastle, West Ham and Portsmouth goalkeeper Shaka Hislop has called the intervention “a coup”. In an excellent twist the leader of the ousted rebel FA is even called William Wallace. They can take our lives but they’ll never take … our freebies.
Much has been made by the ancien régime of Look Loy and co’s historic association with the disgraced Jack Warner, once of the Samoan Normalisation Committee and now avoiding the US justice system.
Asked about rumours he might have lobbied for the Wallace campaign – something Wallace fiercely denies – Warner told the broadcaster Andre Errol Baptiste of Port of Spain-based i95.5fm: “Even if that was the case, and by the way that is not the case, and it means that is the beginning of the way to lift football in the country, so be it. What’s wrong with that?” Which pretty much clears that one up.
What is actually happening here? This might feel like a dispute at the edge of things, with plenty that is undesirable on both sides, but Fifa’s actions seem extraordinarily high-handed and patrician, even by its own standards, evidence of the increasing hawkishness of the Infantino regime. As the Norwegian Josimar website has pointed out the man in charge of all this normalisation is even one of Infantino’s best friends, his old university chum Véron Mosengo-Omba.
This matters right now. There is a great deal up for grabs a month into the total collapse of club football’s broadcast rights power base. This perhaps explains why Fifa’s public statements during the Covid-19 crisis have been almost alarmingly relaxed. Fifa may suspend all international football. Fifa may, we hear, dig into its £2bn cash fund to bail out clubs and leagues.
“Never let a serious crisis go to waste” is an overused line in the current uncertainty but you can bet Infantino has it inked on the back of his hand. Make no mistake Fifa has a great deal to gain at a time when every entity that has tried to resist its power, from Premier League to Uefa to the poor old TTFA, is significantly weakened.
The collapse of the Blatter-Warner-Platini era hit Fifa hard but not that hard. Money continued to flow but what Fifa really wants is power, most noticeably in its shadow-struggle with club football, where Infantino is convinced it is Fifa’s destiny to take a stronger role.
This seemed to be coming to a head late last year as Florentino Pérez presented a breakaway plan led by the richest clubs to cut out domestic leagues, with Fifa seemingly in close, approving pursuit.
Exciting new plans come and go. This one seemed as likely as so many others but Covid-19 has shifted the picture even further. Every league, every club is facing a financial nosedive, their power tied inexorably to those freeze-framed TV deals. “Football can – and I believe will – play a big part in helping our world recover,” Infantino mused last week, no doubt pondering the majesty of his organisation’s bank balance and with the next major Fifa payday safely tucked away in late 2022.
Nobody really knows what the world will look like once normalisation returns to all of us but some certainties do remain. Resistance, as the case of the TTFA demonstrates, is still futile and right now Fifa is in a position to bend that future to its will.
SOURCE: The Guardian