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The hangover that awaits

Posted: Tuesday June 11, 2002 5:27 AM

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  • By Paul Kennedy, Soccer America

    The World Cup is supposed to be a time of celebration.

    However the United States fares in Korea, we should celebrate the continued progress of American soccer and the ongoing effort by U.S. Soccer and MLS to bolster player development.

    The last two World Cups have been better than the tournaments that preceded them -- and Euro 2000 was the best European Championship ever - offering hope that we'll celebrate an exciting World Cup when it concludes June 30.

    Unfortunately, soccer will wake up to a major hangover on July 1.

    Whoever wins the FIFA presidential election May 29 will inherit a giant mess. Until now, FIFA had avoided an IOC-style scandal, but FIFA General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen's 21-page indictment of his mentor, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, changes all that. Much of the document reads like the report of an executive cut out of the loop -- which Zen-Ruffinen was -- but it pictures a FIFA House in chaos.

    It's no secret that some confederations and federations are run like fiefdoms, but FIFA has always been the model of -- well -- Swiss efficiency.

    Even if Blatter wins re-election -- and he is the favorite -- and he clears himself of Zen-Ruffinen's charges, his image and that of FIFA have been inexorably damaged by the move of anti-Blatter forces to ask a Zurich prosecutor to open a criminal investigation against Blatter for mismanagement and misappropriation of FIFA's funds. Already there are reports that corporate sponsors are thinking of distancing themselves from FIFA.

    The bigger issue is that the politics surrounding the FIFA election mask the crisis to come. Much of the problems Blatter and Zen-Ruffinen encountered centered on business setbacks: the collapse of both of FIFA's business partners, ISL and Kirch. But that's only the beginning of the problem. The flood of big money into the world's top leagues might quickly wash away, leaving the debris of damaged leagues, failed clubs and unemployed players in its wake.

    Someone has to be around to help clean up the mess. The FIFA leadership will be of no help as long as it has own mess to worry about.

    Paul Kennedy is managing editor at Soccer America magazine.

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