FIFA: masters of shadiness

25 Feb

I wrote this short paper for my Socio-Cultural Dimension in Sport class because we had to write about sports and politics.  After all the shizz that went down with the World Cup voting, I just had to write about FIFA (even though I had to refrain from ranting too much about the World Cup voting politics).  After the research I did for this paper, I realized FIFA was even shadier than I thought (which is quite a feat).  Enjoy and let me know what you think…

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, known commonly as FIFA, is the world governing body for soccer. Article three of the organization’s own standards statutes state “FIFA is neutral in matters of politics and religion.”  When charged with running the world’s most popular game, that seems like a pipe dream and has proven as such. FIFA has long played a part in world politics, whether it wants to or not.  There are examples from history about FIFA’s involvement (or non-involvement) in political situations around the globe such as the role of Argentina’s military junta bribing its way to World Cup hosting duties in or the suspension of the Togo national team after a bus attack at the African Cup of Nations.

FIFA has power and authority over 207 member countries and the rules of the game; however the organization is not exactly renowned for its competence. If FIFA were the government of a nation-state and organization president Sepp Blatter was in charge, it would be like Sarah Palin had taken over – completely terrifying.  David Goldblatt, author of The Ball is Round states, “Many things in the world are badly governed. There are many elites who are incompetent, self-serving, self-important and arrogantly blasé about their evident limitations.  None of them can begin to compare with the circus masquerading as the global governance of football.”

Despite being in charge of the world’s most popular sport, FIFA is a notoriously secretive organization.  While it is easy as pie to go online and find the salary of the President of the United States, a Google search for ‘Sepp Blatter salary’ yields only estimated figures.  There is no accountability to the nations, clubs or players under the FIFA umbrella.  Earlier this decade, $60 million from Brazil’s Globo for TV rights was diverted to secret accounts and over $316 million in sponsorship money had simply gone missing.

Even the process of awarding the multi-million dollar crown jewel World Cup is carried out in extreme secrecy. FIFA’s 24 member executive committee votes in secret on the host country and what they say goes. Much like the process of securing Olympic hosting duties, this process has turned increasingly political.  Countries rely on prominent political figures to speak for their bid.  For example, when the U.S. was bidding to host the 2022 World Cup, former President Bill Clinton was highly involved.  England sent Prime Minister David Cameron to the official vote in a final attempt to sway voters to the England bid for 2018.

Prominent politicians play only a tiny role in the process though as there are alliances formed between voting members and promises (and quite possibly bribes) made behind closed doors that have nothing to do with soccer. Call me crazy, but that sounds kind of like Congress. 

After FIFA awarded the bids for the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar, respectively, the rumours of bribes and oil money promises ran rampant (and still are too).  Despite the organization’s insistence on staying out of politics, after the hosts were announced, the secretary-general Jérôme Valcke told reporters, “It’s a political decision to open up onto the world. It was the same thing with hosts South Africa.”

Like I stated before, it is near impossible for FIFA to stay completely out of politics.  The line between soccer and politics is a blurry one and Valcke’s comment only verifies that.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is trying to create and protect a legacy of expanding the game to new places around the ground, thus, the awarding of the World Cup to places like South Africa and Qatar.  Despite the appeal of sending the world’s biggest sporting event to the far corners of the globe, FIFA fails to recognize the economic implications of such a decision.  When the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, all the stadiums used were already in place as either NFL or college fields.  There was not the need to build brand new stadiums which helped keep costs to a minimum. 

For the 2010 World Cup, South Africa spent over $1 billion to build and renovate 10 stadiums around the country.  Several of these stadiums now sit empty as they are not the correct size or dimensions for either cricket or rugby, two of the most popular sports in South Africa.  Green Point Stadium, for example, costs over $6 million just to maintain.  While some of the stadiums are able to be used for the South African soccer leagues, several are in areas such as Rustenburg, Polokwane and Nelspruit, where there are no major sports teams located nearby. There was a communication breakdown between the country’s soccer, rugby and cricket authorities as the needs of the cricket and rugby teams were not given much thought prior to the stadiums being built.  While there was an initial economic boom immediately after the World Cup, it has not been sustained.  FIFA’s priority was on bringing the World Cup to South Africa and the organization did not think that hosting the tournament could actually end up having a negative impact on the country.  There is no focus on the sustainability of the soccer culture and stadiums in South Africa; FIFA basically washed its hands of the issues once the World Cup final ended July 11.

FIFA is the “elite that faces no opposition, little scrutiny and is bound by no single legal jurisdiction” according to Goldblatt.  FIFA holds significant political influence, particularly when it comes to the World Cup, and in turn is influenced, whether rightly or wrongly, by the politics of the day.

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One Response to “FIFA: masters of shadiness”

  1. soccer coaching drills March 16, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Nice Article! Rating 5/5 for soccer blogs.

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