A story of football and all of us

  • Business
  • Saturday, 14 Nov 2015

MONROVIA was in mourning. On Thursday, the capital of Liberia woke up to the news that Musa Bility, the head of Liberia’s Football Association had failed to pass an integrity test, ruling him out as a potential candidate for the February presidential elections of FIFA world soccer’s governing body.

Already, Bility felt much aggrieved. In truth, it would be fair to say that he’d felt that way for almost all his life.

So would you if your dad had cunningly omitted the “a” in front of your last name. It might have made all the difference, that extra letter between real aptitude and nothing. Zip, nada, zero.

It wasn’t fair. Even a “disa” in front of his name might have been more preferable, brooded Mr Bility darkly.

At least he’d get something. The prospect of free parking and pension benefits all over the world rose before him like a million sunsets but, alas, that was not to be.

And now it had come to this and the ex-presidential candidate regarded his tormentors in FIFA with all the compassion Rentokil might bestow on a dirty rat.

True, he was disappointed but that was putting it mildly. The greatest cut, the most insufferable, betrayal, however, was that he’d been rejected as a potential FIFA presidential candidate on the grounds of “integrity” or its lack thereof.

There was irony for you, he reflected bitterly. If anything, he’d thought it might have been something of an asset: it showed that he could be trusted; that he was, at heart, just one of the boys.

The furore over FIFA had much to do with the fact that it was an extremely rich body with the ability – alas, poor Musa – to raise millions through broadcasting rights, sponsorship deals and franchising transactions.

With these sorts of millions sloshing around, football, unlike the days of goalkeeper Arumugam, was no longer in safe hands.

The beautiful game was getting hideous, its noble ways and sportsmanlike traditions giving way to greed and an internal rot from within. What was worse was that no one seemed surprised.

In May, the US Justice harrumph’ed in agreement and unleashed a broadside of its own, describing the corruption in FIFA as “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted.”

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president and a name that frequently provoked unease among the world’s urologists, professed “shock and awe” over the indictment only to hastily confine his reaction to “shock” after being informed that the US Army had patent rights on the former phrase.

As a Forceful Leader, however, he promised to act. And he did, telling the press he would refer the matter to FIFA’s Ethics Committee.

The press was getting to be a strange breed, thought Blatter.

He felt that such an important announcement should have been met with sobriety, even solemn respect. Instead, the reporters had laughed their heads off.

Blatter was appalled: really, it was terrible the way people were getting so cynical. They seemed to think that Fifa officials were all cut from the same cloth – fleece.

But a renewed hope is dawning because the word has gone out in the hallways of global football.

From now on, only people with integrity, rectitude and a sense of fair mindedness could run for the top posts in Fifa. It was either that or being able to fake those qualities convincingly.

But it was no joke and football was the worse for it.

The previous Gods of football – Michel Platini, even Franz Beckenbaeur – had been revealed as men with feet of clay, ostensibly honest men thrust into leadership positions who’d accepted bribes in a climate where cash was king and one would have to be a fool to think any different.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

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