KEIR RADNEDGE in BRIDGETOWN —- They just don’t get it, so many politicians and officials, fans and media – especially, sometimes, the media – from among football’s elite nations when it comes to pondering whether FIFA lives or dies.
A pinnacle of detached self-righteousness from the moral high altitude can be easy to command because, FIFA’s collapse tomorrow into the abyss of its own creation, would make no difference to football in England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United States and the rest of the wealthy, healthy sporting ‘west’.
But the picture would be very different seen from the other end of the telescope, the view shared by a majority of minnow members of the world federation.
They can only ever dream of luxury facilities and officefuls of super-smart highly-paid staff financed by the mighty revenues of mega-rich broadcasters and multinational sponsors.
Randy Harris, the one-time ice cream salesman who took over as president of the Barbados Football Association last year, is typical of those who dare not even waste time and effort in dreaming.
Harris popped above the international parapet last month when what he deemed an expression of polite good manners towards Gianni Infantino was seized on by the UEFA general secretary’s camp as a statement of FIFA voting intent.
Pressed on the point, Harris retreats hastily behind the “secret ballot” verbal barricade. Very possibly he might even prefer to see Jerome Champagne elected; but Harris appreciates that, lacking a confederation’s support, the insightful Frechman’s prospects are slim indeed.
For FA presidents such as Harris – from a 160-square-mile island nation with a population of 275,000 and 7,000 registered players – the collapse of FIFA would be a sporting and social disaster.
This is why cavalier talk in Europe of scrapping FIFA or postponing the election or putting the entire operation on ice arouses angry much frustration elsewhere. Resentment at such inconsideration among the rich, chattering classes could rebound against Infantino whatever his qualities as an administrator and part-undefined campaigning resources.
Harris says: “Until very recently we didn’t even have a headquarters of our own. Now we have our new offices and our field and we have had two GOAL projects OK’d by FIFA for artificial lighting and bleachers on one side of our pitch.”
But there is no financial investment from the island’s government and sponsors vary between hard to find and non-existent.
“We are a small place,” says Harris. “We don’t have the big companies like other people though we get some assistance from the commercial sector from time to time. We don’t have live broadcasting either. Our one TV station on the island tapes our games and shows them sometimes in time-delay and highlights.
“The big European countries take what they have for granted. They think that’s how it is in every country. But most FIFA members don’t have those benefits. We have to be active all the time merely to mantain awareness of the game here.
“It’s not like Europe where they don’t have to think about that.
“If FIFA collapsed tomorrow it would not affect any of the big countries but we would be in real trouble. We would get along but it could never be at the level it is even now.
“With the election of Mr Havelange and Mr Blatter FIFA has really done something that has saved a lot of us small federations from demise.
“We get the opportunity to play in all the FIFA tournaments and CONCACAF tournaments and this is all because of the policies of FIFA and its assistance programmes.”
The alternative? Harris has no hesitation: “Without FIFA we would just be sitting here watching the Champions League and European football on television.”