It is with increasing interest that I watch the FIFA corruption scandal unfold, as hundreds upon hundreds of apolitical football fans everywhere have begun to feel the sense of injustice and hatred towards an all-powerful organisation (a feeling usually dismissed as the preserve of the left-wing, student, pseudo-political type). Millions of men and women are beginning to understand how infuriating it can be to witness radical abuses of power and this has translated to en-mass media and public pressure that FIFA hasn’t had to deal with since…or hasn’t had to deal with, frankly.
FIFA is as corrupt as an organisation can be. However, this is nothing new. FIFA has been corrupt for decades now. The fact that thousands of labourers will die as a result of Qatar being “awarded” the World Cup in 2022 is an fairly small black mark on the charcoaled record that is FIFA’s history. From the monopolisation of World Cup profits, to the headquarters in a tax haven that exempts them from various laws, FIFA is mired in dishonesty. The history of presidents abusing their power starts with Stanley Rous-the 6th president of FIFA-who notoriously (and without any repercussions) forced the USSR to play a world cup qualifier against Chile in Santiago, despite the stadium being used by Pinochet’s newly (and illegally) installed forces to round up and execute “communist” sympathisers at the time. Interestingly, the first match (held in the USSR) was said to have been afflicted by biased refereeing. The theory also goes that Rous-who had allowed matches in Belfast to be moved during the troubles- was unwilling to let the match be played on neutral ground so that the USSR would not qualify, forcing a communist nation boycott and meaning that England (where Rous was from) would have a place in the tournament. In the end, the match was a spectacle, with Chile kicking off against no one and running the ball in to an empty net (which is a pretty good analogy for how FIFA awards most things). As to why the usual procedures weren’t applied-that the team who didn’t show up is given a 3-0 defeat-one can only hazard a guess that the FIFA representatives of the 1970’s have just as keen a sense of irony as the current representatives (as demonstrated by their response to corruption accusations consisting of them investigating themselves).
Whether or not FIFA were coerced by the CIA and other American agents (who were responsible for bringing Pinochet to power, despite no substantial support materialising for him before he became a dictator and murdered everyone who disagreed with him) to force the USSR in to this corner, it is obvious that FIFA has always had a political slant (despite the protestations of Sepp and co). This culture of corruption was cultivated further by Rous’s successor (and Blatter’s predecessor) João Havelange. Havelange has a remarkable rap-sheet of questionable acts, including but not limited to:
- appointing Carlos Lacoste-former interim president of military ruled Argentina, later arrested for corruption- as Vice President of FIFA
- accepting favours from the head of an illegal Brazilian gambling association-Castro de Andrade- who was later also arrested for racketeering
- Using political connections to try and stop Pele from passing “the Pele law”, a law which gave clubs and players greater autonomy from the Brazilian Footballing Federation: when this failed he threatened to ban Brazil from the World Cup
- using his influence to get his then son-in-law (Ricardo Teixeria) elected as head of the Brazilian Footballing Federation, which they are both accused of laundering bribe money through.
- accepting bribes of up to $41m with his former son-in-law during their time on FIFA’s executive committee .
- postponing a discussion on the appointments that he made to FIFA’s standing committees after complaints, then promptly distributing a new list of committees and passing them all without a vote
Havelange is also accused of accepting bribes during his time on the IOC, so it is no wonder that Sepp Blatter thinks he can wonder around with an air of infallibility. Blatter is remarkably straight-laced when compared to his predecessor, but still runs an organisation that is corrupt to it’s very core. If you put the words “corruption” and “FIFA” in to any search engine, then everything that comes up other than FIFA’s own propaganda will be able to inform you of the questionable acts that they are committing under the tenure of their 8th president, from obvious bribes given by the Qatari bid team to FIFA delegates, to the mysterious “disappearance” of the Russia bid teams computer files. The processes of FIFA are not only brazenly corrupt, but also presented in an atmosphere of sheer impunity that has created a culture of McCarrthyite blame within the upper echelons of football.
Football, like all sports, can never be apolitical. FIFA is an organisation that is intrinsically political in its DNA but is granted a special outsider status because of the relationship that the sport has with millions, if not billions, all over the globe. Like organised religion, FIFA is given a shiny white veneer to detract from the seedy underbelly, but like organised religion, no organisation or movement that big can escape from the inherent corruption that power brings about.
What next for FIFA? Well, unless radical action is taken, then nothing. Even if Blatter were forced out, the organisation would still remain clouded in a smog of dishonesty. FIFA’s power lies in its monopoly and monetisation of football: they profit off of the beauty of something that can bring two completely different people together. The ability that football has to unite is a wonderful thing and it must be cultivated, not manipulated. The only way to stop the good name of the beautiful game being tarnished by needless death and greed via corruption is to democratise football and make any governing body transparent. FIFA will resist, and because of its seemingly omnipotent nature, it may seem a thankless task to try and take them to account. Fans cannot do anything without completely removing football from their lives, something that FIFA knows a majority will not want to do. UEFA is the only body within football with the influence to do anything due to the number of star players in the European leagues (all of them) and the autonomy and power of certain FA’s within UEFA (especially the German and English ones), but so far threats of leaving FIFA are more whisperings than shouts (although as of 25/11/2014 the head of the Bundesliga has publicly called for Blatter to step down). The FBI and Serious Fraud Office have been touted as potentially looking in to the workings of FIFA, but a case remains unlikely. In reality, all we can do is continue to spread information and hammer home the message that we do not want our beautiful game to be corrupted for a few expensive watches and holidays abroad. FIFA may be able to ignore the knocking on the door for now, but soon they will have to open up.