How Dangerous Is FIFA?

Since 1904, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has organised and promoted all the major football tournaments, including the World Cup It is a non-profit organisation and generates revenue from sponsorship

In 2017, FIFA’s revenues exceeded $734 million, a net loss of $189 million FIFA does not have to worry: it still had cash reserves of over $930 million With 211 affiliated football associations and 35 billion football fans worldwide, FIFA’s reach is incomparable And with such influence and such large amounts of money, it is all too easy for greed and evil to hold sway

In 2014, in an article for The New York Times, American sports writer Dave Zirin levelled a list of charges against FIFA, arguing that greed, corruption, nonfeasance, and malfeasance are endemic to the organisation’s leadership, including then president Sepp Blatter Indeed, accusations of corruption have marred the legacy of Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, who was elected president of FIFA in 1998 and was reelected another four times For example in May 2006, British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings published his book “Foul! The Secret World of FIFA”, in which he detailed allegations of bribery and corruption following the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner International Sport and Leisure According to Jennings, over the course of two decades prior to ISLs downfall, the marketing firm would systematically pay bribes to FIFA officials “like salaries” However when the company went bust, those same officials were urged to secretly repay more than £1 million in bungs and kickbacks to cover up the affair

On 29th November 2010, the extent of the corruption appeared to go much deeper Andrew Jennings and the BBC’s investigative programme Panorama claimed that prominent FIFA members Nicolas Leoz, Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira had accepted large bribes from ISL between 1989 and 1999 In fact they were just three of 175 bribes paid by the marketing firm, totalling $100 million Sepp Blatter said that FIFA had not investigated the allegations because the complaints had not come via official channels Issa Hayatou, President of the Confederation of African Football and Acting FIFA president after the fall of Sepp Blatter, was involved in another scandal in 2011

A FIFA whistleblower informed The Sunday Times newspaper that Hayatou and fellow committee member Jacques Anouma were paid $15 million to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup Jennings also alleged vote-rigging and abuses of power during the 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2015 FIFA presidential elections, to maintain Blatter’s grip on power Former chairman of the English Football Association, Lord David Treisman, has described FIFA as behaving “like a mafia family”, highlighting the organisation’s “decades-long tradition of bribes, bungs and corruption” Sepp Blatter and other FIFA officials have denied all of Andrew Jennings’ claims

However, this could very well be a case of a few rotten apples, and the organisation itself is still worth saving On 25th May 2011, FIFA announced it had opened investigations into four officials – Mohamed Bin Hammam, Debbie Minguell, Jason Sylvester and Jack Warner – over allegations of bribery from a fellow FIFA executive, Chuck Blazer In 2015, that enquiry banned Warner for life from returning to football, after the ethics committee found that he had “committed many and various acts of misconduct… involving the offer, acceptance, and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments” Even those who inform on their fellow FIFA members are guilty of corruption In 2013, Chuck Blazer – the General Secretary of the CONCACAF federation – admitted to accepting bribes over the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, and agreed to turn whistleblower on the organisation

If FIFA officials are greedy enough to accept bribes, it may not seem like the greatest evil However, corruption can have profoundly harmful effects on the world For example, even before allegations of corruption, Qatar seemed like an odd choice to host the 2022 World Cup Temperatures regularly reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, or 49 degrees Celsius, forcing the 2022 tournament to be staged during the winter Furthermore the construction of the football stadiums has been facilitated by subjecting thousands of migrant workers to exploitation and punishing work conditions

In 2013 alone, health authorities reported 520 migrant deaths, of whom 385 were unexplained This is the same Qatar that stands accused of bribing multiple FIFA officials for the hosting rights Likewise the Russia 2018 World Cup and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics bids were obscure choices Sochi is a well known holiday destination with some of the warmest temperatures in Russia, with anti-corruption critics citing billions of dollars that disappeared into the budget One of the more prominent opponents was Boris Nemtsov, a long time critic of Putin, who produced evidence of more that $30 billion in stolen funds, calling the games a “monstrous scam”

A year later, Nemtsov was assassinated a short distance from the Kremlin As CNN’s Frida Ghitis commented, “Sports events such as the World Cup and the Olympics have become trophies for tyrants FIFA is a perfect place for crooks

It is little wonder dictators love doing business with it” However for extending legitimacy to regimes around the world, FIFA often makes demands of its own of the host country Andrew Jennings criticised FIFA for requiring nations bidding for the World Cup to agree to a series of special laws, including a blanket tax exemption for FIFA and her sponsors, and a limitation of workers’ rights These demands appear to heavily favour FIFA and their sponsors over the rights and interests of the host population For example in Brazil alcohol fuelled violence at football matches became such a serious problem that it was banned from stadiums

However part of the bidding process is the absolute right to sell alcohol in the stadium – Something FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke stated “Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant, but that’s something we won’t negotiate” Despite the evident health risks, President Dilma Rousseff allowed the sale of alcohol in stadiums in 2012 Even after all of these concessions to FIFA, Brazil didn’t see anywhere near the same level of economic growth as expected According to a study from Western Michigan University, while tourism increased for the four weeks, those tourists only spent 25% of the $15 billion invested by the government

Despite the apparent rampant corruption at FIFA, over the last five years government agencies from multiple countries have attempted to cut out the rot In May 2015 the FBI arrested fourteen people, including nine FIFA officials, on charges of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering … And in September 2015, criminal proceedings were brought by the Swiss Attorney General against Sepp Blatter himself regarding “criminal mismanagement… and misappropriation” Blatter stepped down from his previously unassailable position three months earlier, marking the end of one of the more shameful periods of sporting history However despite their tarnished reputation, FIFA still controls global football, earning $6 billion from the 2018 World Cup alone

With money comes influence and with influence comes power And when you control a sport beloved by half the world’s population, perhaps corruption is just part of the game

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