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FIFA must look at its backyard for direction

Are we going the right way?

My comment on FIFA and The World Game which ran in today's Courier Mail (Brisbane's main newspaper for those outside the country). It's pay-walled for some reason but here's the full version anyway. 

Click on the link if you like it to make your interest known.

Note, while this article concentrates on Messrs Blatter and Al-Hussein, two other candidates are running. 

"Apparently, the big wigs of the World Game are in town for the Asian Cup. At least two major contenders for this year's FIFA presidential elections, Sepp Blatter and Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, are here courting support, making deals, shmoozing and maybe even watching a game. Given our fair land is the first battle field of this vital moment in the future of the game, I thought I might take the opportunity to have a word in their ear.

Sepp, Ali, lean in. Now, even within its first few days, Asian Cup watchers have witnessed the magic football can make. We've had Iran (Shia-led) v Bahrain (Sunni-led), the former of which has been accused of fomenting an uprising in the latter. A great, open match it was too. We've had the appearance of North Korea and Iraq and we've seen the debut of Palestine, starring players from the world's biggest refugee camp, Gaza.

The Palestine backstory is perhaps the most dramatic of all the Asian Cup's 16 qualifying teams. But their tale simply reflects the power of football to both inspire them and to provide a vehicle to escape hardship. These stories are the essence of a sport that many of us not only love to watch, but believe can be more than a mere game.

Sepp, Ali, hear this: don't get distracted by rights deals, shoring up support or with dodging corruption charges.

A bouncing soccer ball can knock down many walls.

But, boys – and you know this is true - the sad fact is that many see world football as an over politicised, over commercialised industry, defined by its elites, characterised by the money it generates at the highest levels and stained by corrupted and incompetent administration.

The awarding of upcoming World Cup tournaments to Russia and to Qatar (the latter in preference to Australia among others) has stained a body that has, since at least the reign of Joao Havelange as FIFA President (1974-1998) can be accused of making money for a few rather than magic for the masses.

Others too outside the FIFA circle, such as major sporting goods manufacturers have also sought to rip into the flesh of the game and take their meat from its flanks.

And to some extent lads, FIFA has let this happen.

Take a look outside your boardrooms and you'll see the real power of the world game.

It's in a red dust refugee camp just outside Kigali, Rwanda.

A few years ago I was part of a media delegation on a World Food Program food delivery to the camp, mainly made up of those fleeing conflict in the Congo. It was dire place with mud huts and dirt floors, rationed food and disease. But, someone had brought along a soccer ball and the kids erupted. A game broke out and the stuffy officials and earnest media were pushed aside and real life took over.

I looked on and saw the real power of the game to break down barriers. I glimpsed how it could bring joy to desperate lives, how it could educate, exercise (and exorcise) minds and bodies, bring hope, motivate. I saw something that gave these kids a reason to live and that gave their parents a reason to believe in their future.

We might see the real deal too in Gaza, where I am aiming to facilitate programs that will give the kids there the beautiful game unencumbered by the nasty adult games that threaten to spoil their fresh, ever-smiling lives. In Gaza, kids have seen more desperation than a handful of lifetimes should hold; more frustration, more pain, more destruction, more injustice, more sadness than kids in a country like Australia couldn't conjure in their worst nightmares.

UNICEF recently told the world there are some 1 billion children out there who are affected by war and conflict. The body's child protection chief said, “It sort of feels like the world is falling apart for children.”

For these kids, living with a deficit of joy and hope and lacking even in belief in themselves under the endless assault of politics upon their lives, soccer is a simple joy. It is anti-politics, anti-power. It is for many their only light in a world of adults that has failed them.

To you Sepp and Ali, I want to tell you this is our game, and we're not selling. Moreover, it is our legacy for the next generation of kids. Unlike us, if they chose to, they can make soccer a vehicle for all that is good about humanity, not a symbol for its weaknesses. Lets not let anyone take that possibility away. Run on that ticket and I guarantee the world will support you. Enjoy your stay."    


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