Time to Dismantle World Football’s Edifice of Corruption

Dawn arrests in 5-Star Zurich hotels. A special press conference called by US Attorney Loretta Lynch to present a charge sheet of what she called “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” international corruption spanning decades and involving eye-watering kick-backs, fixed tournament allocations and rigged presidential elections . . . Except we’re not talking about an authoritarian statelet here. Not in the slightest. No, this is all about the latest attention-grabbing developments in FIFA, world football’s governing body.


Here’s my old friend David Goldblatt’s take on the FIFA corruption scandal – an extraordinary story that he has been following closely, writing about and campaigning on for years. Predictably, much instant media coverage of the US, and now also Swiss criminal investigations is focused on the lurid details of the corruption charges: who paid how much to who, when and so on. In one sense this is both obvious and understandable, because by any standard the details are extraordinary.

A personal standout concerns Chuck Blazer, an American described as a ‘soccer dad’ who by 2010 had risen to the higher echelons of Fifa, football’s world governing body. Whatever it was he was doing for Fifa it was certainly proving remunerative. By 2011 Blazer had supposedly acquired two flats above Fifa’s regional office in  Trump Tower close to Fifth Avene Manhattan, in New York. Why two you may ask? Answer (reportedly): one for him – and one for his cats. The presumption is that Blazer managed this, morevoer, with his cut from the massive sums – allegedly in the $150m plus category – Fifa had allegedly received in bribes and kickbacks over the last 20 years.

Finally cornered by the FBI and US Internal Revenue Service over failure to pay tax on any of this not-so-mysteriously gained income, Blazer eventually agreed to co-operate with US law enforcement agencies. The result was a spectacular series of revelations over internal corruption in Fifa that doubtless contributed to to the charge sheet against Fifa read out yesterday by the US Attorney.

As I read it David’s main point, however, is the need to use this headline-grabbing development to focus on the causes of corruption in world football’s governance, not just its financial consequences, however outrageous they indeed are.

When it comes to global football governance, he argues, it is high time for ‘the politics of Fifa to be extended beyond the eternal insiders of the dysfunctional football family, the royal houses of the Gulf, and the stooges of authoritarian regimes and commercial interests that pass for representatives of the world’s football nations.’ To who? At the very least’, he suggests, ‘representatives of fans, players, football NGOs and grassroots football should have a seat at the table’. A modest but eminently democratising proposal.

Beyond the composition of governance structures, David argues for a rewrite of Fifa’s constitution specifying and intensifying the democratic and social obligations of its constituent members, and transforming its mode and rationale for awarding World Cups.. All in all such moves are, he suggests, ‘the bare minimum that the situation demands’.

‘Democracy is coming – to the USA‘, Leonard Cohen once sang famously. Who knows? Perhaps this time round a US-prompted inititative could actually help to kickstart a process of genuine democratisation on the international scene. Now wouldn’t  be something?


Ex-Sri Lanka Army Chief would ‘welcome’ war crimes investigation


‘My conscience is clear’. ‘The army as a whole, I can give the assurance that we never committed war crimes”. . . . . Brave, not to say fighting talk from Sarath Fonseka in an interview feature in the UK Guardian published today.

Simply ascribing the crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military in the final stages of the civil war to the acts of ‘individual offenders’, as he does here, is at best delusional on Fonseka’s part, at worst a case of being knowingly ‘economical’ with the truth.

Overall, the irresistible force of international human rights focus on the final stages of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war looks to be on course for continuing confrontation with the irremovable object of Colombo’s steadfast official refusal to come to terms with, less still address, what really happened in the North in 2009.


18 May 2015: War Commemorations in North and South

For the first time since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in May 2009, this year it has been possible – albeit not particularly easy – for the Tamil population of the island’s North to hold public ceremonies commemorating their war dead. (Caveats include no public mention of the LTTE or use of their symbols; an effective ban on ceremonies in the Mullaitivu area, where the final and bloodiest stages of the war took place; and an often heavy police  presence at all events).

In addition, in advance of the day President Sirisena announced that it would no longer be known as ‘Victory’ or ‘Heroes Day’, at had been the case for the previous 5 years under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rule, but rather ‘Remembrance Day’: a day, in other words, on which to remember all who died in the conflict.

Below is a selection of photos, mostly published in Sri Lankan media, from ceremonies held both in the North and the capital, Colombo. The first set of photos are from Tamil ceremonies in the Jaffna area.

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Police surveillance of a ceremony


Military Wall of Remembrance, Colombo Cemetery

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Commemoration Ceremony, Colombo

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President Sirisena and the country’s military leadership at the official ceremony in Colombo


Commemmorative gatherings in the Jaffna district

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A lone Tamil National Alliance (TNA) local politician defies the ban on ceremonies on Mullivaikal beach, scene of one of the final battles and horrendous Tamil civilian carnage



Bibi: The Hidden Consequences of His Election Victory


Trenchant, if depressing, analysis of the recent Israeli election results by an insider who knows what he’s talking about. A few shards of hope too.

In particular, author David Shulman’s depiction of the way in which Israeli occupation and the slide towards de facto apartheid rule over the Palestinains is not only humiliating and oppressing the Palestinian population, but also eating away at the moral and ethical core of Israeli society is both highly persuasive – and relevant to other countries embroiled in wars of conquest, subjugation, combatting terrorism etc.


The Walk Of Shame


To mark the sixth anniversary of the ending of Sri Lanka’s civil war in May 2009, Frances Harrison has published a devastating piece in The Colombo Mirror. I say devastating avisedly, because the stories of pain and suffering endured by Tamil survivors, primarily women, both during the conflict’s final stages and since she conjures up have a genuinely nightmarish quality to them. I am one of the people Frances alludes to in the article who found they could only read her 2012 book, Still Counting The Dead, in small doses – and even that sometimes felt like putting yourself through pure torture. The same is true to an extent here. But it remains necessary reading nonetheless. Not just in order to understand this important part of what happened in the war, but also because of its implications for the difficult and demanding process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Concluding, Frances notes that some Tamil women who were multiple rape and/or torture victims have since decided that “the best way to defeat their torturers is to try to be happy again”, among things by electing to marry and have children. That requires extraordinary individual courage but be under no illusion that it implies forgiveness or reconciliation”, Frances underlines. “It’s hard to imagine someone in this situation would not harbour deep-seated anger and hatred for those who still deny their attempted mental and physical obliteration.  Reconciliation has to be about a lot more than which language you use to sing the national anthem.”

Which in own way, pretty much sums up some of the key challenges confronting the country along the path towards attempting reconciliation.


Freedom Party Blues II



Divided and confused, the SLFP is morphing into President Sirisena’s greatest vexation, with its shifting allegiances towards his predecessor, determination to scuttle his reform agenda and frustration that he has chosen to govern with their archrival UNP.

Long but percipient analysis of current Lankan political dynamics from Dharisha Bastians, for my money one of the country’s best commentators. Her conclusion: the best thing that could happen in current circumstances is fresh parliamentary elections, and sooner rather than later. Let’s see if that is what happens . . .

See the article at: www.ft.lk/article/419453/Freedom-Party-Blues-II


Should Europe open its borders – or shore them up?

Three expert voices interviewed in the context of EU Foreign Policy Supremo Federica Mogherini’s request to the UN Security Council earlier this week to pass a resolution authorising military action against migrant smugglers operating in Libyan and international waters:

‘[Europe has] constructed the irregular migrant as a security object when 99.9 percent are not: they present no security risk. The more we started to close our borders, the more migrants were forced to start using smugglers. The biggest misunderstanding is that by attacking smugglers you solve the issue. You only increase the dependency of migrants on smugglers . .  .

There are four million Syrians stuck in the Middle East with no future. If we believe they’re going to stay there quietly and wait for us to move them, we’re delusional. If we don’t organise it ourselves, the smugglers will. Many people are fleeing violence and conflict and it’s there that we need to think much harder about what we can do, because the ethical obligations that we have towards those people are very important.


Sri Lanka: Landscape Before The Elections

Sage analysis of Lankan pre-electoral dynamics from Jayaveda Uyangoda. For some, (re)-learning the habits of democracy is not easy after years spent acquiring the habits of autocratic rule . . .



Kandyan Dancers

A lovely couple of pictures of girls in traditional costume awaiting the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry in Kandy during his visit to Sri Lanka last weekend. Ambiance almost as much Bolshoi as Kandy . . .

Books R Us

In the 1980s, as Gorbachev came to power and perestroika led to profound changes – initially in the Soviet Union and subsequently among its communist allies – as a journalist I covered political developments in Central-Eastern Europe. Eventually my focus settled on Poland, a country I first visited in summer 1983, just as Poles were preparing for Pope John Paul II’s momentous return visit to his home country and the lifting of martial law imposed in December 1981.

Subsequently I spent much of the annus mirabilis of 1989 in the country researching Poland: The Rough Guide (Penguin), published in 1991, and described by The Warsaw Voice as ‘the first independent guide to an independent Poland’. Throughout the 1990s I retained a strong interest in the post-communist world and the challenges of effecting a transition to pluralist, democratic states – challenges that were most vividly expressed in the hugely destructive conflicts that erupted both throughout former Yugoslavia and in several regions of the former Soviet Union. A book of essays by leading thinkers and writers about the post-communist world that I edited at the time, After the Revolutions: Democracy in East Central Europe (LPI, 1996), identified and dissected some of the key issues in focus in the region.

Cut to the following decade when, in the context of a growing professional focus on conflict issues, I began to develop a particular interest in Sri Lanka – worlds apart, but an island nation that had nonetheless long fascinated both me and before that, other members of my family. A first visit to the island in spring 2003 – a year after the signing of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the government and rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – led to many others, conducted in the shadow of an ethnic conflict that reached its bloody finale in May 2009 with the Sri Lankan military’s shattering military defeat of the Tigers.

Since then, and in the context of researching and writing a (soon to be published) book on Norwegian peace facilitation efforts during the conflict’s final decade, To End A Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, I have revisited this beautiful, arresting island in peacetime conditions. During book research visits made in the course of 2012 and 2013, however, all too much of what I witnessed, particularly in the former LTTE heartlands of the northeast, hardly suggest a country that was finally at peace with itself.

Hope, however, springs eternal. Into early 2015, presidential elections called a full two years ahead of schedule by Mahinda Rajapaksa resulted – to many observers, mine included, surprise – in the ruling dynasty’s dethronement (whether temporarily or permanently remains to be seen). A new political order headed by President Maithripala Siresena – a former ally of Rajapaksa’s – was instated in mid-January 2015. An order that declares itself committed to dealing with the ethnic conflict’s pervasive legacy on all fronts, from accountability for war crimes to the return of lands seized by the Army in the majority Tamil-populated North, the release of political prisoners, and renewed respect for human rights and media freedoms.

In terms of matching rhetoric with concrete action the initial signals from the new administration, which is based on an unprecedented coalition between the two major political parties, are encouraging – a fact symbolized in the warmth with which President Siresena and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera have been received on their initial (Feb. 2015) visits to key allies India and the USA. (Next trip, and no less importantly – China).

Overall, there is a sense that things are looking better for – and most important of all, going better in – the country than at any point in the last few decades. At the same, there should be no illusions that there is still a long way to go before crucial aspects of the legacy of Sri Lanka’s civil war are properly addressed. In particular the so-called national question – code for the status of the country’s Tamil population, the core issue that eventually led to armed conflict on the island in the first place.

For anyone with an interest in the country, then, these are truly interesting – and hopeful – times. We can only hope that developments continue down the path of genuine change and reform. And if the new government proves capable of rising to this challenge then, as a key contributor to my book, Erik Solheim argued recently:

‘The new ‘Sri Lanka’ model could make many dictators lose their sleep. If the new democracy is able to deliver results: democratic reforms, inclusive development and Tamil and Muslim rights, it will become a true role model. We should all do what we can to support the new government and the people of Sri Lanka’. (‘Shock and Joy in Sri Lanka’, Huffington Post, 29 Jan. 2015)

Amen to that.