Sunday 18 August 2019

Disturbing look at an organisation losing all control

The Fall of the House of FIFA
The Fall of the House of FIFA

Book review - Jason Goodison

How football came to be is at this stage very well documented. The players who enjoyed the rough folk game, which originally reared its head in the middle-ages before being adapted and played by schools and churches in the 1800s, could not have envisaged the path their primitive sport would take.

With the establishment of the English FA in 1863, the game decided on a set of rules and to a basic commitment to play. FIFA's creation in 1904, in a back-room in France's capital, aimed to bring nations together through the medium of football.

It is disturbing to see how an organisation, once basking in core values and the vision of a peaceful future for all, spiralled out of control into little more than a method of filling its leaders' bank accounts.

David Conn's message in his newest book, 'The Fall of the House of FIFA', is exactly this, to the extent where he spends the majority of the opening chapters detailing football's origins and why they are increasingly relevant to today's scandals.

Conn cronicles the scandals and the misdemeanours of football's elite as the list of high-profile names sucked into the mire of bribery and corruption becomes almost never-ending. From ex-professional Franz Beckenbauer to high-profile businessmen Jack Warner and the recently-deceased Chuck Blazer, no-one is spared an inquest.

One would be reluctant to christen Conn's production a 'football book'. Indeed, if the sports journalist had decided to bypass print media and make a television programme on the content, it is far more likely that you would find it in the documentaries section of your planner rather than on Sky Sports.

That said, the almost sole focus on the business of FIFA, and the corruption which their business is steeped in, creates a book with a niche target market. The run of the mill football fan may be advised against splashing the cash for this read, as chapters become tedious with the inclusion of what can feel like unnecessary background stories. 

However, Conn manages to do something which not many books based around sport can - venture into the world of business and call on the interest of people who don't necessarily have a sporting passion.

For these people, Conn undeniably produces an enthralling read. His detail is top-class. Drawing on every available source of information, using his own journalistic work as a base for the book, he presents it in the most thorough way imaginable.

Conn's chapters follow a chronological order but once into the meat of a 20-30 page chapter, the author tends to bounce from year to year. As the revolving doors in FIFA headquarters in Zurich had kept the same faces in cushy employment for long spells, one event/person is inadvertently linked to another.

While Conn writes a book about the very serious issues of corruption in sport, it is hard not to laugh at his description of events. While it becomes clear that some of FIFA's criminals are relatively good at covering their tracks, it is astonishing that some lasted as long as they did. The phrase that they must have received a 'brown envelope' is scarily true.

Conn closes his tale with an interview with the ringleader, Sepp Blatter, surprisingly one of the few of FIFA's royalty to survive the last few years relatively unscathed in terms of personal charges. In it he reflects on Blatter's reign, which has created unprecedented growth that is often forgotten in the recent haze of corruption.

Blatter himself seems somewhat of a metaphor for Conn's book, in that even though his time is up, there is still more of this story to tell.

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