The revolution will be journalised

This is a story about an old-fashioned coup. One planned with ruthless efficiency, with scant regard for the authority of once-formidable foes and with a determination to inspire a revolution.

It has been perpetrated by some of the most powerful forces on the planet – far more powerful than governments or armies, naïve celebrities or meddling royalty.

Yet we are in danger of forgetting that the true architects of this bloody coup live a precarious, shadowy existence, unloved and mistrusted, poorly-paid and in danger of dinosaur-like extinction.

The coup against FIFA, its sickeningly-corrupt officials and, one would hope, the arrogant dictator who has presided over the worst criminal crisis ever to afflict sport, has been fuelled by the only people more powerful than Sepp Blatter. The brands. Visa, McDonald’s, Sony, Nike, Coca-Cola, companies that paid FIFA $1.6billion in 2014 alone just to be associated with football.

The FBI’s investigators and lawyers have, of course, done sterling work but let’s not kid ourselves. The only reason they have managed to amass this much evidence and been given license to take such brutal action is because some of the world’s richest and most valuable companies have had enough. The corruption story is tarnishing their brands and, at last, they’ve mustered the courage to take their revenge on Blatter and his greedy cronies.

But that’s not the real story. And I keep using the word ‘story’ deliberately. Because, as the FBI reminded us as it carted off sheet-shrouded FIFA officials to the cells, corruption in FIFA and its associated marketing satellites across the world is endemic and has been going on ‘for generations’. Generations!

For decades, Visa McDonald’s, Sony, Nike, Coca-Cola and the rest have been happily doing business with a deeply suspect governing body, ruled by an impervious dictator who has ruled over international football as if it was his personal fiefdom. These brands have fluttered their eyelashes at FIFA and Blatter like high-class tarts, collectively squeezing their nostrils and opening their wallets to give and receive. Over and over again.

They played the game and got rich off the beautiful game. So cheers for their new-found courage should be somewhat muted. The real plaudits should go to those shadowy forces mentioned earlier. Journalists.

And a pretty tiny bunch of journalists it has to be said, led by the award-winning Sunday Times Insight team – funded by Rupert Murdoch – and freelance journalist Andrew Jennings whose extraordinary dedication, energy and perseverance ensured that some of the worst culprits of this bribery scandal were uncovered, highlighted and brought to mass attention through Panorama documentaries on the BBC.

Together, they have doggedly pursued their prey, risked their careers and shouted down the objections of lawyers to bring us a truth we all suspected but could not prove. It is they that have forced the world’s most powerful companies into a humbling volte-face, they who have encouraged the FBI to take action. No doubt there are other individuals around the world who have demonstrated similar journalistic determination – my familiarity today is with British efforts – and no doubt they should be praised too.

The point being that whilst everyone is back-slapping brands for their determination to root out wrong-doing within an organisation that is has helped to both prop up and plunder for decades, there is something reassuringly old-fashioned about how this revolutionary coup has come about.

In an era when those in the media have been rightly condemned for immoral practices whilst facing near-obliteration from anodyne, meaningless and cheap web-fuelled competition, this story shows that journalism can be an extraordinarily powerful force for good. It can do things governments can’t, multi-national businesses won’t, lawyers forbid and most digital organisations don’t have the instincts, ability or will to carry out. It can find the truth. And it can still influence – perhaps even control – brands rather than vice versa.

It reminds me of the lyrics to a favourite song, and I do hope Gil Scott-Heron will forgive my rewriting: ‘You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop-out…the revolution will be journalised.’

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