As the date for the election of the new leader of world football draws ever closer, I couldn't help but wonder quite how the governing body of the most popular game on the planet has gradually become the personal fiefdom of a man who 20 odd years ago was barely known outside his own canton, let alone country – that is unless you were a signed up member of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders (seriously, look it up!).
Well, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, let's start at a new beginning, in this case – 1974. This was the year that the then 98 members of FIFA voted Joao Havelange in as the 7th President of FIFA. His predecessor, Sir Stanley Rous, was a founder member of FIFA and a football administrator to the core. The new man at the top was, on the face of it, born from the same mould - a double Olympian who forged a career in football administration. This was also the year of the Munich World Cup, the new FIFA World Cup trophy and ironically the beginning of a 20 year decline in the fortunes of the Brazilian national team. The World Cup that year was a simple, 16 team affair run along the same lines as the model for all previous tournaments.
The 1978 tournament to be staged in Argentina was already organised and although there was a slightly bizarre second phase and some questionable officiating, only 16 teams competed and the tournament was still purely a festival of football. But now things began to change with hosting a 24 team competition in 1982. By the time the World Cup bandwagon rolled up in France in 1998 there were 32 competing nations and a new FIFA president, one Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter. In addition the tournament had become a brand with all its associated commercial opportunities. Whereas previous tournaments were limited to a cutting edge logo, some dubious mascots and the obligatory awful team song, we now had official sponsors, partners, supporters etc. all paying large sums of cash for the rights to bombard the watching fan with every kind of commercial message. This explosion of commercial association has grown steadily with each tournament so that in South Africa, you could only use one brand credit card to buy one brand type of soft drink, beer or burger.
However, FIFA doesn’t need this money, its broadcast fees more than cover the expense of running an understated office on a hilltop, so its role is to ensure that the funds are cascaded down through the continental confederations and on to each of the 208 member states. Now, and hopefully you are still following this, is the intriguing part. Each of the members one single vote, that means Timor Leste (ranking - 200 with 10 clubs and 100 officials) has exactly same influence on who becomes, or indeed remains, the President of FIFA as does Spain (ranking 1 with 18,200 clubs and 62,500 officials).
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a much smaller amount of financial assistance is needed to make friends and influence people in Dili than is needed in Madrid and as everyone knows friends will always return favours, after all you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.