The Fall of the House of FIFA by David Conn – Review
By Karl Hornsey
David Conn has established himself as an investigative journalist of the highest stature in recent years. Whether in his columns for The Guardian or in deconstructing the modern behemoth that football has become in his books The Football Business and The Beautiful Game?, he has established a reputation as a fearless reporter of some of the seamier sides of life behind the scenes in a sport in which money has become king.
His latest release, The Fall of the House of FIFA, is no exception. On the contrary, it’s truly exceptional. Given the shameful events for which FIFA and those giants of football administration from the past 50 years are now finally being exposed and held accountable, there may be the belief that writing about FIFA is something of an open goal. And there have been plenty of books and articles on the subject, but none that hold the same authority and depth of detail as Conn’s.
Here, he takes the time to establish the beginnings of FIFA and, in all fairness, highlight some of the exceptional global developments they have been responsible for. This isn’t a hatchet job, but a well-balanced account of how power and money have corrupted so many of the individuals involved.
Conn also avoids falling into the trap of holding former FIFA president Sepp Blatter responsible for all of the organisation’s problems. While Blatter is very much the public face of FIFA’s downfall, so beautifully illustrated on the front cover with a picture of the Swiss walking away with the World Cup under his arm, Conn treats him fairly, including holding a three-hour meeting with him in the summer of 2016, six months after he had been summarily booted out of the organisation that he had devoted much of his life to.
“Corruption of such magnitude”
Blatter is certainly no angel, and isn’t depicted as such, and will continue to his fight to clear his name, while slinging a fair bit of mud at those he deems responsible for his enforced retirement. However, his list of failings pales into insignificance compared to the likes of the infamous former CONCACAF president Jack Warner, with whom the English FA chose so rashly to get into bed with in their efforts to secure staging rights to the World Cup, and the larger-than-life Chuck Blazer, ex-football administrator-turned-whistleblower.
This isn’t an easy read, as taking in a scale of corruption of such magnitude requires a keen attention to detail, but Conn does his best to explain the various chains of events and, with all such investigations, follows the money.
Much of the focus is on World Cup bids, not just the remarkable decisions to hand the next two to Russia and Qatar, but also those held in South Africa and Germany, which, it seems, were by no means won fair and square. As a lover of the World Cup since first watching it in on my new TV, bought specially for the occasion in 1982, to read about what went on behind the scenes to bring later tournaments to life is especially disheartening. But, even so, this is a story that needed telling and needed telling by the best man for the job. And that man is most certainly David Conn.
‘The Fall of the House of FIFA’ by David Conn is published by Yellow Jersey, £16.99 paperback