In a matter of days, the most anticipated game in world football is upon us. Two juggernauts of domestic football will clash as Juventus take on Barcelona in Berlin to compete for the Champions League trophy. Fans of the game of all ages and nationalities will be united, albeit from their armchairs, in the emotions unfolding over 90 minutes in the Olympiastadion.
However, the focus of media attention is almost exclusively centred around the events unfolding at Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich. It is a catastrophic state of affairs when the conduct of the football governors has detracted from the beautiful game. Fans and pundits are united in demanding justice for the way the governing body has conducted themselves. They want to see those who have tarnished the reputation of a sport followed by 2bn fans held to account and appropriate ramifications brought upon them.
I was one of those who, along with billions of other fans across the globe, watched in disbelief as the 209 members of Fifa re-elected a president who for 17 years oversaw a delegation riddled with accusations of corruption on a massive scale. The message this act purveyed was tragic. As a boy, I idolised the football stars of the day. The spirit of football and fair play was hugely influential not only in my professional career, but in all aspects of my personal life. The same impressionable youngsters were sent a message last week that it is completely acceptable to break the rules, to play dirty, and to escape punishment. I felt ashamed of the sport, not only as a footballer, but more so as a fan.
Many of the Fifa delegates shared my emotions and felt compelled to question their own affiliation with an association where bribery and corruption is alleged to have become almost commonplace. David Gill, the Fifa vice-president who offered to resign in protest of Blatter's re-election (following Blatter's resignation he will now stay), was one of them. I had the pleasure of getting to know him during my time at Manchester United. He is by far one of the best football executives in the world, and I presume he thought he could bring the much needed transparency and accountability to Fifa when he replaced Northern Ireland’s Jim Boyce on the Executive Committee. It is a damning indication of an organisation's culture when a figure of David Gill’s calibre steps down to protect his own integrity.
It is precisely this integrity which Fifa urgently needs to instill throughout the organization. It needs wide-ranging cultural reform and individuals such as Gill, Figo, Prince Ali, and Platini to take the reigns of the organization and guide it to a culture of fairness, transparency and ethical practice.
The enormity of the task in hand for Fifa requires support from all those involved in the game whether it be players, managers, agents or unions. My new company, Axis Stars, aims to promote transparency within the profession and give professional athletes a protected ecosystem to undertake contracts and provide sound financial advice. I would hope that this pursuit for transparency, driven by the players of the profession, transcends to those governing it.
Cultural change of an organization is a monumental task, but with the impending departure of Sepp Blatter I believe the process can now get under way.
We can now only hope that there is a smooth transition to office of whoever is the next elected president. They need to integrate new technologies and the once guarded ranks of the Fifa delegation need to engage more proactively with its stakeholders to bring long needed accountability and authority. In this new post-Blatter era, Fifa would do well to live up to their motto: For the Game. For the World.