- Associated Press - Monday, October 18, 2010

PARIS (AP) - Of the catchy slogans that soccer’s custodians at FIFA have coined over the years, the best is “For the Good of the Game,” because that describes, exactly, the moral, ethical and sporting yardstick by which they are measured.

It means that FIFA and everyone connected with it should be soccer’s servants. Nothing more, nothing less.

It means that FIFA and everyone connected with it should be putting soccer’s interests, and never their own, above everything else.

It means that FIFA and everyone connected with it don’t own the game, but instead are merely there to care for it and to make sure that the game _ and only the game, not its guardians _ prospers and grows.

And if FIFA or anyone connected with it is breaking those most basic rules, then they must thoroughly clean house or go. No excuses. Out.

Allegations in The Sunday Times of London newspaper this weekend that the votes of senior FIFA administrators can be bought for the right price are terrible for soccer, if true, because they would damage the trust upon which the game is built.

Soccer’s billions of fans need to know that the reason FIFA chooses country X, Y or Z to host the World Cup, the planet’s biggest single sports event, is because doing so is good for the game, not because it was good for those who make the decision.

They need to know that the winner was the country that put forward the best bid, that promised the best spectacle for fans, the best facilities for players and the best knock-on effects for soccer globally, not because that country’s lobbyists offered the juiciest incentives or bribes.

Fans understand that soccer politics are part of a World Cup vote and that some FIFA members are going to back a bidder in their own region if they can. But they also expect soccer’s custodians to love the game as much as they do and not abuse that trust by lining their own pockets or currying favors.

In short, FIFA’s incredible powers come with incredible responsibilities, too.

As long each and everyone one of them is honest and acting in soccer’s best interests, then it doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem that just 24 men _ and they are all men _ on FIFA’s executive committee get to vote on the World Cup host. But the process at the moment is murky, seemingly vulnerable to influence-peddling and, we now learn, perhaps worse. The Sunday Times isn’t the first to allege that corruption is a problem within FIFA. And it doesn’t help that FIFA’s own body to investigate such claims often seems to have more gums than teeth.

If FIFA members are abusing their monopoly for their own gain, then it must be time for new rules and for change, similar to that which swept the International Olympic Committee after its tradition of gift-giving, favors and bribery was exposed in the bidding scandal for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Out went 10 IOC members. In came a regime of stricter regulation and, in 2001, new leadership under Jacques Rogge, a surgeon and Olympic sailor with a squeaky-clean reputation who runs a tight ship.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is promising “an in-depth investigation” into The Sunday Times claims that two members of the executive committee over which he presides suggested to undercover reporters that giving them money for pet projects _ a soccer academy in New Zealand for one, soccer fields in Nigeria for the other _ could help buy their votes.

The newspaper did not report that money actually changed hands, so its story was short of smoking-gun proof that FIFA members can be bought.

FIFA’s code of ethics is crystal clear: Its officials must refuse “any gifts or other advantages that are offered, promised or sent to them” and are forbidden from “urging or inciting” people to offer bribes “to gain an advantage for themselves or third parties.”

So FIFA needs to explain why The Sunday Times was able to covertly film Nigeria’s Amos Adamu seemingly agreeing that $800,000 for artificial pitches should be paid directly to him and why Tahiti’s Reynald Temarii appeared to tell the undercover reporters that funding for a soccer academy could be “helpful” in securing his vote.

The suggestion of votes-for-favors and that World Cup hosts might not be picked purely on their merits is not for the good of the game.

And, for FIFA, that is the only true measure to judge it by.

___

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org.

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