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Tomorrow, we go from mess to Messi.
With ominous dark clouds of scandal and corruption enshrouding the world of soccer over the past week, has anyone noticed that Saturday will be a monumental day for the sport? Tomorrow marks a rare confluence of two major events that should help us forget, even for a day, about the imploding corruption scandal tearing apart the leadership of FIFA – one that promises to reshape the future of how the world’s most popular sport is governed.
In Berlin, Barcelona and Juventus, two of the world’s most popular clubs, will battle in the final of the UEFA Champions League. With almost 400 million viewers in over 200 countries, the Champions League finale is the most watched annual sporting event in the world. And with the incomparable Lionel Messi, the sports’ transcendent star, leading Barca, the anticipation level of this match will be tenfold. Later that day, about 4,500 miles away in Edmonton, host Canada will meet China in the opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a tournament that has becoming increasingly exciting and competitive since its inception in 1991. With the United States as one of the favorites, yet again, the interest level for the tournament south of the (Canadian) border should continue to build throughout the month of June and into July.
One could argue that scheduling the Champions League final on this day is an affront to the Women’s World Cup, which deserves the center stage to itself for at least one weekend, but considering the events of the past ten days, the pairing of the two mega events could not have come at a better time. The sport sorely needs a weekend like this – one where the world’s greatest players, male and female, share the spotlight. Talent, skill, style, unbridled passion from athletes and fans alike – this is what drives fans, media and corporate sponsors to the game. We shouldn’t need a reminder of that, but when the lack of integrity in FIFA leadership is exposed for all the world to see, when tales of fraud, money laundering and racketeering dominate the news for weeks (and eventually months) on end, it is time for Messi, Neymar, Pirlo, Wambach and Marta, among others, to shine bright as beacons for what is good and authentic about futbol.
Hopefully, we will see a transition in leadership at FIFA and its affiliated governing bodies that establishes a level of trust and integrity that the sport deserves. Of course, this will take time (and some leaps of faith along the way) and will require those who have the power and authority (other than the Feds) to hold the sport’s leaders to the highest ethical standards. That may not include the majority of FIFA member countries, who were still compelled to vote for Sepp Blatter for re-election as President last week (before he shockingly resigned just days later), or most fans for that matter, who – and this not such bad thing – care a lot more about what transpires on the pitch than in the boardroom. It is really the corporate sponsors, the media rights-holders and others who leverage the powerful global platform of FIFA to build their business that have the responsibility, power and voice to hold FIFA accountable and ultimately influence change for the better. Whether or not they have a direct involvement n the events of Saturday, June 6 and beyond, they understand what’s at stake. They know why the world’s attention should be on feet, balls and nets, and not on backroom deals, secret handshakes or illicit wire transfers. They know why it’s called The Beautiful Game.