Last week, the Guardian carried an exclusive interview with Mohammad Bin Hammam (1, 2, 3), speaking in broad terms about Hammam’s mission for ‘change’ at the top of FIFA (change we can all get behind, eh?) and that he would make a statement / decision within 10 days. Hammam later tweeted (1, 2) that he would hold a press conference in Kaula Lumpur at the AFC Congress on Friday 18th March (tomorrow) to ‘clarify his position’.
Matt Scott’s interview and subsequent coverage of the story is excellent – he talks about the support Bin Hammam enjoys, the Goals project that is part of FIFA strategy to ‘reward’ member associations, Blatter’s past in FIFA, including his relationship with former FIFA president Havalenge and his preferred method to keep member nations ‘onside’.
But there is so much that’s left unsaid that it comes across more as Hammam’s campaign launch and less like a news story. Everything is geared to support the idea that a) Hammam is both a suitable and more favourable candidate than Blatter and b) people would choose Hammam over Blatter (they would use Grant Wahl over Blatter, but that’s another story). The Guardian ran a poll right after this story, and of course, the poll was going to favour Hammam (with most people having read nothing but carefully guarded praise from Guardian about him).
The coverage continued into this week in the build-up to this week’s big announcement – Hammam’s support for ‘whoever stands for election’, Platini’s decision to run for second UEFA term, and even an article on how much FIFA’s top executives are paid (in which Hammam’s name is strangely missing).
What The Guardian Didn’t Say
Where is the story on Bin Hammam’s much-debated past – including behind-the-scenes rumours of bullying and buying votes for the lat AFC elections, AFC elections from some time ago (frequently mentioned in What happened to discussing the full picture behind a story – in this case, Blatter’s corrupt past? Given the FIFA-bashing that goes on in David Hill’s ‘Said & Done’ column for the Observer on a weekly basis (where Hammam is often featured along with Blatter), the least the Guardian could have done was to share with their readers the truth about Hammam’s background (as well as Blatter’s).
They discuss ‘speculation’ (based on ironclad sources tipping them off) all the time, and they choose to ‘omit’ everything about Blatter / Hammam?
Where is the story on how the English FA is still bending over backwards to appease Blatter? We hear about countries getting ‘tired’ of Blatter, there’s little mention of the many national FAs who know he’s the one turning a blind eye over their corruption in exchange for votes?
Where is the story on who Blatter is grooming as his successor?
The Guardian usually prides itself in talking about the sordid past of those who own football clubs – the repeated reference to West Ham owners’ pornography background is one of several instances – and when I asked Ian Prior (Guardian Sports Editor) over Twitter about the relevance this had on the stories they were publishing, he got back to me asking if Hitler’s past should be airbrushed from the history too?
And there was this article in the Guardian on Monday, wondering why Don Revie’s past was being ‘airbrushed’ from history?
With those two points in mind, why is the Guardian airbrushing Hammam’s past in favour of a good story? Because that was the condition of him granting the interview?
Is Hammam a more suitable candidate than Blatter?
His campaign promises so far (delivered to you courtesy of the Guardian) not identify any substantial changes that he would bring to the table. He talks a good talk about transparency and working together with football clubs, but will he disclose how non-profit FIFA’s money is being spent (which would mean more transparency into his own actions and past? Will he work on changing the international calendar to suit the domestic game (and therefore end up pissing off a couple of hundred national associations from whom he’s looking for votes)? The only thing he’s talking about is ‘change’ – and that’s a flimsy (but catchy) ideal if it’s all there is to it.
His campaigning will involving winning votes from many national associations who have grown fat on FIFA grants – what will he do, offer them more money? Will this be then disclosed under his new transparency measures?
While Hammam talked about doing everything in opposite to Blatter (more transparency, working with football clubs instead of against them, etc), where was the key question on what Hammam plans to do with disclosing FIFA executive salaries? Or what he planned to do with FIFA’s ridiculously protected status as a non-profit entity? Or, most crucially, would he lift the lid on the corruption that has gone on at FIFA in the last 30 years (or more)?
I understand in interviews like these it’s impossible to ask such pointed questions, but even a single practical question on ‘transparency’ would have been better than just turning the Guardian into Hammam’s campaign platform.
And I also know how difficult it is to get these interviews, and how the questions need to be vetted in advance, how the story needs to be seen by the PR guys (Hammam’s) before it gets published. If Nike can demand full control over the coverage of their events, someone like Hammam would obviously exert far more control.
It’s easy to paint a black and white story about FIFA, Blatter and Warner being the evil bad guys and everyone else standing against them to be the good guys. Bin Hammam talks a good talk – as any politician worth his salt does – and he’s got the added advantage of potentially running against (possibly) the most hated man in football. It’s an easy sell.
It’s easy to present the 1% surface layer of the story, and a biased one at that (although it’s biased in favour of Hammam, and too soft on Blatter).
It’s easy to push under the carpet the vote rigging and bribing allegations in exchange for an exclusive interview, just as it’s easy to write positively about a club after criticising rich owners for ruining the game (David Conn and Manchester City).
Don’t get me wrong – I like Matt’s work (and David’s too), and the Guardian is inevitably my first football site to check each morning. But as an organisation they Guardian took the easy route here – and there’s much more mileage to be had in supporting the person who opposes Blatter than outing the challenger’s dirty past.
There’s plenty of time to get to that afterwards. The people can wait for the truth, can’t they?
Can Hammam Beat Blatter?
He certainly has a much better chance than Grant Wahl, whose PR stunt on ‘running for FIFA president’ did wonders for his (and his employers’, Sports Illustrated) popularity, but has zero chance of ever being a candidate since no FA would support him over the folks who pay so much money in ‘grants’ on a regular basis.
He also has to contend with pressure within the AFC – where his support may be split because of the financial prowess of Blatter’s designated heir, but there is sufficient support for him against Blatter to tip the scales there. Africa would also be a tough battle, both locked with Blatter (World Cup baby). CONCACAF is Jack Warner’s territory, and Hammam would have to offer something truly significant (including helping to keep him out of jail by covering up his corruption) to get him onboard.
CONMEBOL is again tightly aligned with Blatter, which leaves ‘Europe as the last battleground for votes, and the likes of Platini will have a huge say in the matter (considering that Blatter helped him become UEFA president and in return he has stayed away from FIFA politics as much as possible).
It’s difficult to see Blatter lose – this isn’t a popular vote, it’s based on member nations voting, and they know which side their bread is buttered on.
IF this was a popular vote though, what would that do? We know next to nothing about Hammam, precisely because of airbrushed coverage of the type handed to us in the last week, and with his flimsy campaign platform, the only thing we can be sure about is that he will use his position to further the cause of his own country / region. Everything else is hearsay / hope.
You can’t fix FIFA by changing Blatter. Yes, he needs to go, but championing the next guy as the saviour will only set us up for another England-style World Cup disappointment. It’s happened too often in politics (in and outside football) to believe otherwise.