A PAGE-TURNER BOOK ABOUT FOOTBALL THAT I COULDN’T PUT DOWN

6 February 2018 Comments 0

Excuse the radio silence in January! I’d love to say it was because I was having a long break, whizzing down some ski slopes somewhere, or even back in Australia taking in the cricket and the tennis, but no – it’s been work. Quite a lot is happening and I’ll be happy to share more about that later in the year.

But to kick-off Watercooler for 2018, I want to tell you about a terrific book I read recently.

It’s by my mate, Bonita Mersiades, who is one of the co-founders of #NewFIFANow (along with MP Damian Collins and me) and who has been incredibly courageous over the past eight years or so in publicly identifying corruption within the FIFA world from an ‘insider’ perspective. She is known as a ‘FIFA whistleblower’.

Her book Whatever It Takes – the Inside Story of the FIFA Way, has been almost eight years in the writing, on-and-off.

When she handed me a pre-print copy on a cold, rainy lunchtime in London last month, I looked at the 350-odd pages and thought ‘This looks long. It could be hard going.’

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I started it on a train journey to Blackpool the next day and, frankly, couldn’t put it down. Even though I had just returned from a business trip to the USA and was feeling jetlagged, I read long into the night and was awake bright and early the next morning to finish it off.

If you think it’s going to be a dull and turgid account, believe me, it’s not.

It’s a thriller of a read. A real page-turner.

And what is remarkable about it, is it’s not a tale where the writer recounts what she’s been through in any sort of self-pitying way – which she could be entitled to do – but an honest and frank account of what’s happened.

It deals with facts, not opinion (other than the very last chapter where she summarises from her perspective).

It gives remarkable detail about conversations and settings in which she was a participant; it draws on documentation and information already made public; and it includes new information based on original research and investigation.

And, while Bonita was a member of the Australia 2018/2022 World Cup bidding team, it is a book that is so much more than about Australia.

In fact, what has been unique always about the issues Bonita has spoken out about for the past eight years is that she is really the first – and only – person who held a significant, senior position in football who was able to identify the features of the infamous ‘FIFA way’.

As she sets out, and as regular readers of my blog will know I agree with, she was targeted by FIFA and her own football association, Football Federation Australia (FFA), precisely because she could articulate those issues so eloquently and knowledgeably. A truly inconvenient woman.

What is not remarkable, of course, is the reaction back home in Australia to her book. Other than the initial reports of it by journalist Matthew Hall in the Fairfax Press and FOX Sports to coincide with the book’s launch in London, only one mainstream media journalist, Richard Hinds of the ABC, has written anything about it – despite the fact that it raises some big issues for Australian football stakeholders and the Australian government which funded the bid in its entirety.

As for Australia’s football stakeholders – nine state-based federations and one person representing the nine Australian A-League clubs. Seriously folks. These people supposedly are custodians of the game down under, but they apparently don’t care enough to ask some really obvious questions about the conduct of their bid of their own national football association. Hopefully the people running football in Australia will change soon: they should do considering it’s still the same people in charge who presided over $50 million of taxpayers’ money resulting in one lousy vote.

Not that the Aussie government cares less about what happened to their money. They’ve just given another $5 million to FFA to mount a bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Great cause, sure. But amazing disregard for facts and history.

However, I digress.

To return to Bonita’s book, the man who did more than anyone to uncover FIFA corruption, Andrew Jennings, calls it “The best book on the FIFA scoundrels” which is high praise from someone who should know.

A former FIFA senior executive also wrote during the week:

“What a fine, wonderful, great job Bonita has done! She deserves all admiration for the sharp memory, the excellent presentation, the spirit in which she wrote it, simply for writing such a milestone body of work for the history of football and to deliver an authentic picture of the decadence of FIFA and their leaders.”

I reckon it deserves to be read by everyone interested in issues of governance, probity and accountability in world sport. Or even if you just want an entertaining read about some of the characters in world football. I hope it’s translated into other languages.

There’s an amusing story in it about a discussion from 2009 by Bonita’s colleagues about a film being made of the (then unwritten) book. Perhaps they were prescient. It’s such a good piece of work, wonderfully told, I for one would love to see it as a film.

Buy it. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

And, in doing so, you’ll also be helping Australia’s cerebral palsy football team who were de-funded by FFA 18 months ago. (I rest my case when I say the current FFA need to be given the boot).

Whatever It Takes – the Inside Story of the FIFA Way is published by Powderhouse Press. You can buy it in digital and paperback format via Amazon in USA, UK, Europe and Australia, or in paperback via Fair Play Publishing.

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