Just three days before seven of the most powerful figures in global soccer were arrested in Switzerland on corruption charges, iconic player Diego Maradona published a prescient Op-Ed in The Telegraph accusing FIFA of turning soccer “into a playground for the corrupt” and dubbing Blatter “a dictator for life.” Today, after news of the criminal investigation into soccer’s governing body plunged the sport into turmoil, Maradona is doing a victory lap.“People said I was crazy!” he told Radio La Red in Argentina. “Today the FBI revealed the truth.” Read his thoughts on the state of soccer below.
For decades I have lived and breathed football every single day. It is my passion. I am deeply proud of my career and the wonderful support I have known in Argentina and abroad from fans, friends and colleagues on the field. That is why I am writing today.
In the last few decades, football has changed – and not for the better. Once, it was a sport you could be proud of, a sport that united the world. But Fifa, its governing body, has turned into a playground for the corrupt.
Most football fans can predict what I am about to say next: Under Sepp Blatter, Fifa has become a disgrace and a painful embarrassment to those of us who care about football deeply.
When I speak with football enthusiasts these days the conversation inevitably turns to the Fifa elections. While I find almost no one openly supporting Blatter, many think he will win a fifth term. Why? The whole notion of a fifth term is an absurdity in 2015 – it is not acceptable in democratic countries anywhere. Nor is it acceptable in the United Nations or most international organizations today.
But somehow it is OK for Fifa. We have a dictator for life.
I call Blatter “the man of ice” because he lacks the inspiration and passion that are at the very heart of football. If this is the face of international football, we are in a very bad place. Football is an intense world, filled with conflict and it has always had its problems, but the head of Fifa should not be one of them.
The media is filled with stories on the string of scandals that have surrounded Blatter for well over a decade. There are so many, it has almost become boring to repeat them.
Who would be surprised by another bit of Fifa intrigue and larceny, another accusation of bribery?
When I ask why so many people think Blatter will make it yet again, the answer is always the same: He has won support with years of unethical patronage, favors and handouts.
No one has argued that he is the best man for the job and deserves to win. They “praise” him for keeping one step ahead of the investigators – whether they are auditors or the FBI – and ignore how Fifa finances have turned into a shambles with losses over $100 million (£65 million) alone at ISL, the Swiss marketing company closely associated to Fifa.
There is a sick admiration for Blatter much like that accorded to an old Mafia boss who has somehow managed to stay out of jail.
Blatter’s political history is one of promoting division and hiding failures.
Recently he pledged to follow through in addressing racism in football and promoting women in the sport. That made me laugh. My question is: “Sepp, what were you doing in your last four terms?”
We all know the answer to that: surrounding himself with crooks who lined their pockets at the expense of the sport.
Read the full Op-Ed on The Telegraph here.