I am not a huge fan of football, but I do acknowledge that it is, by far, the most popular sport on the planet. However, the world game may now be facing its darkest hour. Two events in the past month have had as destructive an impact on the sport as a tsunami has on a coastal village. Football’s governing body FIFA should run to the hills, regroup and quickly devise a plan to minimize the damage and ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
The first major event was the handing down of sentences to 21 convicted football hooligans in Egypt. The world was left stunned when these men were condemned to death. Nearly 100 people died in the riots these men are accused of inciting, but nobody expected that another 21 lives would be added to the death toll.
In the aftermath of the sentencing, there was further bloodshed in the streets of Cairo as outraged fans voiced their concern. Allegations then started to appear that these sentences were linked not only to football violence but also to the political and civil unrest Egypt has been suffering over the last few years. When sport and the administration of sport turn political, a very dangerous line has been crossed.
Football’s other major concerns lie in the recently reported allegations of match fixing. Over 400 players and officials are believed to have been involved in the fixing of over 600 games at the highest level of the sport, including matches from the World Cup, European Cup qualifications, Champions League, and matches from the highest leagues in 15 countries from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.
Dirty money with figures in the tens of millions of dollars has been reported, and it has been suggested that a highly organized crime syndicate, which may stem from Singapore, is involved. There is big money in football, and where there is big money there are usually greedy people wanting their slice of the pie. FIFA is not simply facing a battle – it is facing a war which will have to be fought guerilla style, and which will be very difficult to win.
I often criticize those who identify problems without suggesting solutions. In this case, I cannot think of any solutions besides the obvious severe punishing of those involved. The punishments should be slightly less severe than those the hooligans face in Egypt, but severe enough to deter this type of behavior from happening again. I wish all football fans the best in the near future as the sport looks to be heading towards some dark days, and there’s no telling how far away the light at the end of the tunnel may be.