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Simon Evans discusses why more topical obsessives who push for change are needed in the global football community to keep organizations like FIFA, UEFA, or MLS accountable and push for positive change.
"Twitter Ted" may be "Tedious Ted" but also "Absolutely Necessary Ted"
11/24/2014
 
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There was a fascinating article recently on 'Twitter Ted', the obsessive American soccer fan who spends a large amount of time campaigning for the introduction of promotion and relegation to the American soccer system. 


It was not so much the issue of pro/rel that I found interesting in the article, I've made my views on that clear in the past.  Instead,  it was the reaction of journalists and bloggers suggesting the article should not have been written as it would 'only encourage' Ted to continue his irritating ways.


Ted, like any single issue obsessive, can be irritating (and abrasive) as he interrupts online conversations in an attempt to change the subject to his favorite topic. It can also get very boring indeed and my own patience with him has certainly been tested on several occasions.


But here's the thing – no decision relating to promotion or relegation in the United States, or the broader corporate structure of Major League Soccer will pass unnoticed in the soccer community here because Ted will be on the case and make sure everyone has heard about it.


And that is a good thing. A very good thing.


Whatever you think of Ted's point of view on the issue he campaigns on or, for that matter, his tactics, he is certainly holding those in power, in American soccer, to account. In the world of soccer we surely need no reminder of what happens when people aren't held to account.


Take the issue of corruption in FIFA and world football. Where have the most blatant cases of corruption taken place? The biggest scandals involved a Qatari Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Trinidadian Jack Warner and a host of Caribbean officials, and an American Chuck Blazer. The Sunday Times exposed officials from African nations who were blatantly turning to Bin Hammam for financial assistance.


While there were reporters in Trinidad, such as the brave and determined Lasana Liburd, who asked lots of awkward questions of Warner and faced frequent threats of legal action as a result, it is fair to say that CONCACAF as a whole, didn't receive much real scrutiny from the press in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Indeed, over the years the man who reported most aggressively and diligently on CONCACAF (and FIFA for that matter) was Andrew Jennings. Jennings, rather like 'Twitter Ted' has a degree of obsessiveness about him and doesn't appear overly concerned about making or keeping friendships. But the last few years have amply proven Jennings right.


Chuck Blazer was viewed in many quarters as a largely harmless 'colorful character' and it was only at the end of his time in charge, after the brown envelopes in Port of Spain had been exposed, that he started to face awkward questions. No wonder he was able to so easily pocket cash from CONCACAF's business for so long. If only there had been a 'Blazer Blog' or a twitter account keeping track of him.


I am sure it was a hard sell for American soccer reporters to convince sports editors, who often are still reluctant to even cover the biggest games in the sport, that it was worth devoting resources and column inches to the issue of governance of the sport at the regional level. My point is not to criticize reporters of what, in mainstream news terms, remains a marginalized niche sport in the USA. Rather I would ask – would Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner have been able to get away with what they did if there had been an obsessive twitter user or blogger, following their every move? Possibly not.


It was particularly interesting to learn that Ted Westervelt's background is in political activism, 

"because it is the whole notion of an 'active citizenry', fundamental to a healthy democracy, that is so sorely missing from football in too many places."

There have been far fewer cases of serious corruption in European football – not because Europeans are inherently less inclined towards unethical behavior, but because they know they probably wouldn't get away with it. The press are alert to the slightest whiff of scandal. If they weren't a blogger or a twitter activist would be

It would only be fantastic if there were reporters with the time and resources and editorial support to focus intensely on holding, for example, the modern CONCACAF to account. But given that is unlikely given media realities. It would be great if there were a version of Ted Westervelt covering the confederation – examining the organization's decisions and use of the region's football resources. In fact, it would be great if there were Ted Westervelts in every corner where football bodies are rarely held to account.

Because fundamentally the FIFA issue is about so much more than Sepp Blatter and his executive committee. It is about an organization where a tiny island that doesn't have a single known professional footballer (let alone a pro club or league) has the same vote at congress as world champions Germany. Where countries with little football tradition and almost no soccer media have the same power as federations in country's where the game is a national obsession and a multi-million dollar industry.

That is a system that is clearly open to abuse and it is a structure that needs to be changed. But until that change is made, the game needs the maximum possible accountability. If the media can't or won't do it then we can only hope there are Ted Westervelts willing to pick up the slack.

 
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