FIFA President Sepp Blatter may be shouldering much of the blame and finger pointing for such excesses as are apparent and presumed inside football’s world governing body.
The BBC’s expose of corruption was followed by the controversial award of World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar, two countries with intrinsic problems such as sweltering summer climates, lack of a free and unencumbered press and lack of gender equality.
Many may think Blatter has to be replaced, and finally he has a challenger, head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Mohamed Bin Hammam.
But news of the recent arrest in Qatar of two Swiss television journalists, Christophe Cerf and cameraman Yvan Thorimbert, has prompted a sudden and unexpected redirecting of the torch of publicity in Hammam’s direction.
For just as the treatment of two Swiss journalists by the 2022 host country is embarrassing to Blatter, because he too is Swiss; so is the incident to Hammam, a Qatari native.
The incident has highlighted the lack of press freedom in Qatar but may now become a major battleground in the vote for FIFA president between incumbent Blatter and his challenger, scheduled for June 1.
Swiss public broadcaster Radio Television Suisse (RTS) had already said it would complain to FIFA about the 13-day detention of its reporters arrested on April 1 as they were filming a program about Qatarâ€™s preparations for the World Cup.
FIFA has so far made no statement on the incident which many already find remarkable. RTS has already trumpeted assurances by the Qatari diplomatic mission in Geneva prior to the crewâ€™s departure that the journalists would not be harassed by the authorities. If true, this puts a dark cloud over any further assurances of reporting freedom by the Qatari dictatorship.
According to RTS, Cerf and Thorimbert suffered handcuffing and a 10 hour long interrogation ordeal at police stations in Mesaieed and Wakra. A Qatari judge fined them, confiscated their equipment and prevented them from leaving the country for 13 days. In a hint that corruption and lawlessness may also be an issue, RTS claim the judge also refused to issue a receipt for the fine. Some people might interpret that as having many of the hallmarks of a bribe.
The incident could not have come at a worse time for Hammam, who is already under fire for his silence on awkward events in neighbouring Bahrain.
There have been street protests in Bahrain against its rulers, and some of those participating in pro-democracy rallies have been prominent footballers including four internationals, Abbas Ayaad, Mohamad Sayed Adnan and brothers Alaa Hubail and Mohammed Hubail. They are now ex-internationals having been suspended for their part in the protests.
His silence is being viewed as more than just collaboration but as rank hypocrisy. He keeps a blog and on April 4th, while the two Swiss reporters were still languishing in a Qatari jail he wrote:
“I am a great believer in democracy and we need to create an environment where individuals are not reluctant to stand up for what they believe in.”
Of course then he was referring to people who wanted to stand up and vote for himself in the FIFA election to replace a previously elected official. Clearly he does not extend the broad brush of principle to include ordinary people who want to to stand up against unelected tyrants who never won an election in their lives.
That he remains silent as his own countrymen arrest, detain and interrogate journalists without charge and explanation, and are only released after paying a bribe, should surprise no-one.
That Blatter will eventually use it as a stick to prolong his own rule at FIFA should surprise you even less.