"The World Cup is thrilling: but FIFA must change" – Bonita Mersiades

By Bonita Mersiades

I’ve loved football since I was knee high to a grasshopper.

The fact that my country, Australia, competed at the World Cup for the fourth consecutive time, fifth in total, is simply wonderful.

But one of the things I’ve had to learn to do in football is divorce my love of the game from the way the game is run. If you don’t, everything we know about football, and the way those who are the custodians of the game have behaved, is enough to put you off it for life. 

There are some in FIFA and throughout the football world who believe that because the former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, has been booted-out; because FIFA’s own internal investigation said there was ‘nothing to see here’ when it came to how Russia and Qatar won; because FIFA, at the urging of their American legal firm and American PR company, introduced some very basic reforms two years ago; and because they have a more presentable, younger, fitter, smiling President in place in the guise of Gianni Infantino, that FIFA has changed. 

It hasn’t.

The ‘FIFA Way’ of doing business, to which former US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch referred, was not just about Sepp Blatter. 

It is part of the culture of world football administration which spreads throughout the globe in six regional continental confederations and 211 member associations.

A few changes at the top – with a new President and a new chief executive – have done nothing to address the deeply embedded cultural issues that have led to the environment we have all heard about through the FIFA arrests in May 2015, which led to the decisions that gave us Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 and which, ultimately, show their impact on the field also

No-one within football is capable of changing this culture – and certainly not Gianni Infantino who has not even shown a commitment to reform beyond what was necessary to escape close scrutiny of US authorities.

Infantino has also closely followed the Blatter Playbook and shown himself to be every inch the football politician intent on doing whatever it takes to be re-elected, just as his predecessor did. 

So where does that leave us once #Russia2018 comes to an end?

A feeling that, despite a World Cup that is as thrilling as always (especially when your team is in it), we are all diminished by what was a tainted decision.

Until and unless FIFA deals properly with its past, introduces genuine transparency and accountability in world football, and forges a future where the forgotten stakeholders of the game – players and fans – are paramount in any decision-making, we will continue to be diminished in the almost 1,600 days until #Qatar2022 also. 

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Bonita Mersiades is a former team operations manager of the ‘Socceroos’ and former Head of Corporate Affairs at Football Federation Australia, where she worked on the failed 2022 World Cup bid. She was one of the first people in the world to speak out about the environment and culture within which world football and FIFA operated, and is co-founder of campaign reform group #NewFIFANow. Her book, ‘Whatever It Takes – the Inside Story of the FIFA Way’ was published by Powderhouse Press in January 2018.