Soccer’s rogues to meet

On Soccer

The knaves are preparing to gather.

They will do so this week in Cape Town, South Africa, where the draw for the 2010 World Cup will be held Friday.

Before that, however, FIFA’s 24-man executive committee will convene for what has been dramatically referred to as an “extraordinary meeting” to try to sweep under the carpet all the embarrassing revelations that have come to light in recent days.

Massive corruption in Europe, with hundreds of games allegedly being fixed in no fewer than nine countries? No problem, we can explain it all.

Blatantly inept officiating that altered the course of at least one World Cup playoff series, between France and Ireland? All part of the game, nothing to worry about.

Executive committee members talking out of both sides of their mouths when looking ahead to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups? Standard practice, nothing unusual there.

It’s sad, really. A sport that enthralls the planet is being overseen by rogues and villains, each one more unsavory than the next and each one pocketing more undeserved wealth than anyone can imagine.

The ineptness of the executive committee members -- or more likely their indifference to public opinion -- knows no bounds.

Just last week, for example, they allowed their prize of prizes, the FIFA World Cup trophy, to be held in the blood-stained hands of Zimbabwe’s tyrannical Robert Mugabe.

Given this unexpected gift, the tin-pot dictator took full advantage.

“Britain does not have any gold, neither does Germany,” Mugabe told a crowd in Harare while holding the golden trophy, which is on a tour of Africa. “I am tempted to think that it came from Africa, and from Zimbabwe, and was taken away by adventurers who shaped it into this cup.

“When I hold the cup, I know all of you will have the urge that I should not let it go because this could be our gold.”

Human rights officials have justifiably condemned FIFA for allowing Mugabe the platform on which to strut his odious self.

Robben Island

The executive committee members will be fawned upon, given the red-carpet treatment and wined and dined while in Cape Town, while figuring out who can put what into whose pocket.

In a shameless bit of publicity seeking that is also intended to divert media interest away from the festering mountain of corruption in the sport, the 24 members will meet on Robben Island on Thursday.

The small isle in Table Bay was where former South African president Nelson Mandela and scores of other anti-apartheid activists, including South African President Jacob Zuma, were once imprisoned. Mandela was confined there for 18 years.

England’s well-respected World Soccer magazine called the idea of FIFA using the prison island as a meeting place “tacky,” and that view is echoed here. Loudly.

I have been to Robben Island. Those who trod its ground as prisoners were more worthy than those who will tread it Thursday.

Jack of all trades

One of the executive committee members is FIFA Vice President Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago. Inasmuch as he also is president of CONCACAF, one would have thought he would have been supporting the U.S. bid to stage the World Cup in 2018 or 2022.

He is, but he is hedging his bet. This is what Warner said two weeks ago at a reception in Nigeria organized by the Australian High Commissioner:

“If there is a country that truly deserves to host the FIFA World Cup, then it is the island continent of Australia.”

This is what Warner said last week: “The United States can count on the full support of CONCACAF . . . including myself.”

And this is what Warner said Friday when he met Gordon Brown, England’s prime minister, in Port of Spain, Trinidad: “He said, and I agreed with him, that England has the best infrastructure to stage the tournament and that after a 52-year gap this is England’s time.”

There was more.

“I met the prime minister today and next week I will meet David Beckham in Cape Town,” Warner said, unabashedly name-dropping while stroking his ego.

World cup update

Good to see that Argentina Coach Diego Maradona’s two-month ban includes the provision that he not attend the World Cup draw. . . . Bad to see that Dutch striker Robin van Persie has been sidelined for five months after surgery on his right ankle. . . . Laughable to hear Swedish referee Martin Hansson, who failed to spot Thierry Henry’s handball infraction against Ireland, claim that he and his assistants were blameless because their views were obstructed. . . . Delightful to hear former Manchester United and France standout Eric Cantona deride fellow countryman and France Coach Raymond Domenech as “the worst coach in French football since Louis XVI.”