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Like the dog that did not bark in the night in the Sherlock Holmes mystery,The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of the most fascinating aspects of the FIFA crisis is that one group has said nothing: the players.

It is astonishing to consider, given all that has been written about the problems of FIFA, that there is very little about what the players think. Their silence has been stunning.

Without the players, there can be no game and the fact that they have had nothing to say about this, the greatest crisis to face the governing body of the world game, shows how sport, for all the talk that it is a business, is not really a business. And why it may prove so difficult to restructure an organisation like FIFA and make sure it is fit for purpose.

One current player is an exception to this: David Beckham. He has confessed how sickened he has been to learn of what is happening in FIFA. But this is a rather special case. He was a prominent part of the England 2018 bid. Just before the bid, by which time FIFA was mired in the current crisis with much talk of bid corruption, he made very many complimentary remarks about FIFA. This included expressing certainty that, despite all that was being said in the media, he felt FIFA would not be affected. He clearly feels let down and, like many in the England bid, he feels FIFA executive members were not upfront when they said they would support England.

And certainly Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has been vocal both about FIFA and Sepp Blatter, the FIFA President. But then Rummenigge is now a football administrator and has an agenda. He runs one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs, Bayern Munich, and his agenda is that of the top clubs in Europe who feel they provide the players for world football, but are not given a say in the running of the world game. It is clear he intends to make this crisis into a weapon that could put clubs, the paymasters of the players, at the centre of world football.

But there are many other players we should have heard from. Nobody more than Pelé. For all the considerable claims of Diego Maradona, Pelé will always be the greatest player the game has ever produced. Since his retirement from the game, he has been active in the sport and for a time was even Brazil’s Minister of Sport with a mission to reform and renovate his country’s football. And it is Pelé who christened football with that wonderful name: the beautiful game. Yet, as this beautiful game has been mired in scandal, Pelé’s silence is eloquent.

Image courtesy of Insideworldfootball

Pelé had a wonderful chance to present to the world what he makes of the FIFA scandal. Within days of the draw for the 2014 World Cup being held in his own country, there he was in London promoting Cosmos, the New York club that he finished his career with back in the 1970s. The club is to be re-incarnated, a suitably lavish Opus book about the club will be published and there was Pelé on the stage at London’s Dorchester hotel to promote it all.

Like all such events, it was carefully marshalled, but those who had hoped that Pelé would share his thoughts on what is wrong with the world game and, in particular, the activities of its beleaguered executive members were to be disappointed.

Pelé was asked about Ricardo Teixeira, President of the Brazilian football confederation, of the 2014 World Cup organising committee and former son-in-law of FIFA president, João Havelange. Teixeira, a member of the FIFA executive, had allegations made about him by Lord Triesman during the England bid. During the World Cup draw in Brazil there were protests against Teixeira.

But Pelé could not be more diplomatic. “Everybody has their enemies; sometimes you don’t even know who they are. It’s the same with Teixeira.” He even insisted that despite reports in the media, he never had any problems with him: “A lot of papers say I have a fight with Teixeira, it’s not true – I am OK with him.” And as far as Pelé was concerned, the problems of Blatter and FIFA was, like that of Teixeira, all cooked up in the media. “I think we can’t worry about Teixeira and his problems with the media, after all, it’s the same with Mr Sepp Blatter in FIFA.”

What makes all this surprising is that back in 1998, when Lennart Johansson stood for the Presidency of FIFA against Sepp Blatter, Pelé was for Johansson. The Swede made much of the fact that he saw Pelé as an ally in pointing FIFA in a new direction away from the Havelange years of commercialism and not enough transparency and accountability.

Pelé’s problems with the then FIFA President João Havelange had been well advertised. They dated back to the 1994 US World Cup Draws. Pelé could not do enough to support Johansson and nailed his colours to the mast when FIFA held the elections at its congress in Paris days before the 1998 tournament began. Then, as Havelange looked on, Pelé spoke in words that could only have been a rebuke for the FIFA that Havelange had built.

This is what Pelé said, “I have met Kings and Queens, Presidents and stars in my travel around the world. But I have never met anyone who cares more for the honesty and transparency of the sport of football as my friend Johansson. I hope deeply in my heart that he becomes the next President of FIFA.” He did not mention Havelange or Blatter, but in his speech Pelé went on to talk about transparency, democracy and accountability, code words meant to convey that Blatter as Havelange’s successor could not bring them about. World football needed Johansson if it wanted a transparent FIFA.

In the 13 years since Blatter beat Johansson, the need for transparency and democracy within FIFA has become all the greater, as the current crisis so obviously demonstrates. So why is Pelé silent? The cynic in me thinks that Pelé feels creating waves will do no good. Brazil’s problems in organising the 2014 World Cup have been well documented and the country’s President, Mrs Dilma Rousseff (pictured below with Blatter), has now asked the great man to be on the committee and help make it, as Pelé puts it, “a nice World Cup.” So why spoil it by taking a stand on the nastiness in FIFA?

Image courtesy of Insideworldfootball

But Pelé’s refusal also points to the dysfunctional nature of sport. During their career, players perform on the field of play, but off it they are told they must keep away from what the men in suits are doing.

Consider English rugby. That is also going through a crisis, although not one of corruption. But it has been dreadfully mismanaged. Indeed, some would say the administration at Twickenham is in melt down. This has seen John Steele, the chief executive, sacked; Martyn Thomas, the chairman, forced to step down; and a confidential report saying “trust has broken down within the RFU”. But Martin Johnson, the England manager, is sure that it will make no difference to England’s chances in the World Cup, which starts in New Zealand in September.

His preparations are complete and he is certain his players have not given a moment’s thought to what the men in suits are doing. “It is really far removed from the players. It’s not going on at their club to whom they’re contracted. They come and play for England and want to get in the World Cup squad. Their concerns are: what am I doing today? What’s the training? What’s for dinner?”

Johnson, who led England to rugby glory as captain back in 2003, is sure that was the case even when he was a player.

Yet a crisis like this requires those who have played at the game at the highest level, or are even now playing, to tell us what they think is wrong with their game, what they feel should be done about it and how they think it can be reformed. In the case of FIFA this is particularly important.

The situation is not dissimilar to a factory which is not productive. Had FIFA been an industrial unit, the shop floor workers would not require much encouragement to tell us what is wrong. Players are football’s shop floor workers. What is more, some of the higher-profile players are like pop stars in a band. A factory worker may fear for his job, sporting pop stars are not that exposed. By refusing to tell us what they feel what is wrong with the game, we are missing a very important voice.

If they do not know what is wrong, then something is badly awry. But if they do know what is wrong, as I suspect they do, but do not want to tell us, then those of us who are outsiders can only guess at the defects that need remedying.

Their silence cannot help the real reform of FIFA, which we all want.

      

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