Charles Pierce, a writer for the online sports website Grantland, rightfully titled his article about the recent FIFA scandal “Zurich Is Stained: FIFA and the Sports Crime of the Century.” Maybe even the word “setback” is too nice for the rotten, corrupt and disgraceful organization that FIFA has become. It was about time that someone came down on FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his colleagues. These someones are the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, assisted by Swiss investigators, who went up to the hotel where the FIFA officials resided to arrest them this past week on charges of fraud and corruption.
Let’s take it back a notch. FIFA has been corrupt for at least the past 20 years, which basically spans the time Blatter has been in charge. The system is rotten and favors small countries, like Andorra and Liechtenstein, which have the same power as soccer’s major powers, like Spain and Germany. The voting system is “one vote for one country,” and a total of 209 votes are counted to elect the president. This means one thing: As long as Blatter and his henchmen do well by smaller and poorer countries, they will give Blatter their undisclosed support. One example of this is that the revenue from FIFA for world cups is split equally among all the countries, to ensure the support of the smaller countries. Liechtenstein gets the same amount of money as the United States, which is appalling.
Also contributing to the appalling system, this past week, some of the high-end officials who took advantage of this system got arrested on several charges of fraud and corruption. Even Blatter, who had been sitting comfortably on his throne atop the world of football and just recently extended his reign for a fifth consecutive mandate as voted last Friday, had to step down following the pressure he faced. We cannot make rash judgements, and the judicial process will take time, but as the New York Times recently pointed out on Monday, “Federal authorities believe that Sepp Blatter’s top lieutenant at FIFA made $10 million in bank transactions that are central elements of the bribery scandal engulfing international soccer,” according to U.S. officials and others briefed on the case. Come on, there is no way Blatter hasn’t taken some of that bribe money for himself.
Nate Silver from fivethirtyeight.com reports in his “How To Break FIFA” piece that “Michel Platini, president of the European football federation UEFA, said its 54 countries might quit FIFA if Blatter is re-elected as FIFA president.” For now, these may be meaningless threats, but they paint a bigger picture in which the whole world of football is shaking. After the United States released the report that led to the indictment of the FIFA officials, the United Kingdom joined it in criticizing FIFA’s functioning and ethics.
Several FIFA officials and analysts were quick to notice that the U.S. and the U.K. had failed bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, bids that went to Russia and Qatar, respectively. Think about this for a second: The next two World Cups will go to Russia — one of the most corrupt states in the world that surprisingly also hosted the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi (which didn’t turn out that great) — and Qatar, a country ranked so low on the Universal Humans Rights Index that I am still searching for it. Qatar also has a very large income inequality gap and an approximate 4,000 migrant workers expected to die building the World Cup’s stadium. If that is still not enough, the games would have been played in a 120-degree heat, which forced the Cup to be pushed back to the middle of November when the temperatures are more bearable, which, you know, is just when the national leagues start to play real soccer. Everything is so perfectly imperfect, and the marriage between FIFA and these countries is just too great.
One final point is to be made here: FIFA is the first international sports body in history to be shaken up with such a scandal. Money in the world of soccer is flowing in from everywhere, especially from Qatar, and is slowly changing the face of soccer. Historic soccer powers are no longer making the calls at the international stage, and now FIFA is calling the shots, a “non-profit” organization that made no less than $4 billion this past year with the World Cup in Brazil. That in itself is spectacular, but the audacity with which most officials rebutted the accusations is even worse. One of the former vice presidents of FIFA, Jack Warner, presented an article by the satirical site The Onion to prove his point that “if FIFA is so bad, why is it that the United States wants to keep the World Cup that will start May 27 of this year?” Yes, I know.
Pierce concludes, “It is incorrect to refer to FIFA as being ‘fraught’ with corruption or ‘riddled’ with crime. FIFA is itself a corrupt act. FIFA is itself the crime.” With Blatter stepping down, the fight against crime is just starting.