If you’re a regular soccer viewer, European, South American or watched John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight program in the past 18 months, chances are you know the Federation International Football Association, or FIFA for short, is far from a reputable body. Any shred of credibility washed away in 2015 when the FBI opened an investigation into the corrupt organization, one of many sad facts the institution would prefer was hidden away from the public eye.
With a list of dirty laundry that spans all 5 major continents across the globe, former President Sepp Blatter embodied the pitfalls of how poorly the body was run. Clinging to power after 17 years without a serious challenger brave enough to stand up to the Swiss diplomat, his eventual ousting last year outlined how absurd and out of touch FIFA had become.
If history has taught humanity anything it is that groups of rich white bureaucratic men with giant egos running multibillion conglomerates unsanctioned leads to disaster. This environment breeds greed and excess, with FIFA being one of the worst proponents of this is living memory.
Newly elected president Gianni Infantino has his work cut out as fans from around the world won’t be holding their breath that FIFA has its house in order until they see proof for themselves. After years of bartering for a more transparent organization that is held to account, only meaningful action can help mend the fences broken down by decades of systematic corruption and abuse of the world game.
Two years away from hosting the World Cup in Russia, a nation held in the palms of Vladimir Putin, the damage done by previous bids are the unsavory legacy left by the Blatter administration. Not until Qatar in 2022 has come and gone will the sport be able to pick up the pieces again. These are 10 shocking facts FIFA doesn’t want you to know about.
15. Doping Allegations
Kneejerk reactions are probably the best description of FIFA’s turgid and lax response to the Russian athlete doping scandal rocking the sporting world right now. With the IOC coming down hard on athletes from the nation in the upcoming Brazil 2016 tournament, FIFA are looking into allegations of a mass cover up by Russia’s FA in terms of their soccer operations. Soccer players have been caught and banned sporadically for doping for decades yet the tools in which authorities can test and examine these athletes are sparse and ill-equipped to get the job done properly. Drugs won’t help players trap or dribble a ball better but when it comes down to two sides of comparative talent, the side with the superior endurance will have that competitive edge. Compared to other sporting bodies like the NFL, FIFA’s huge amount of reserves are never touched on to deal with cheats in the sport who are out there abusing the most popular sport on the globe.
14. New President Under A Cloud
Removing Sepp Blatter and electing Gianni Infantino was the supposed clean slate to help the organization become that respected institution it believes it is. Without any public skeletons in his closet, Infantino seemed to placate many of the various factions inside the FIFA house, until news broke of some serious ethics violations that are under investigation. The 46-year-old Swiss native with a background in law reportedly knocked back an “insulting” payment offer before four separate whistleblowers flagged his impending salary package that defied a transparent process. Old habits die hard in this instance, with one Swiss diplomat not heeding the advice of his predecessor and his very public fall from grace.
13. Media Shutout
In 2015, the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program sent for journalists to go to Qatar to cover the worker programs as the stadiums were being built for the 2022 World Cup. On course to visit the sites, cameras were seized and reporters were sent away for questioning about their intentions. This came after a long process of having to conform to a list of rules and regulations that included filming in “forbidden and restricted areas,” and complying with Islamic customs and traditions. Weeks before this happened, BBC journalists went off an official tour to see the backstreets of Doha where they were held for interrogation over two nights and all of their footage erased. Upon their returns to their respective countries, the ABC and BBC told tales of horrific hygienic conditions which barely passes as livable by any global standard.
12. Holding Back Technology
The English Premier League is head and shoulders the most popular and commercially successfully soccer league around the globe. Now they are pioneers, introducing goal-line technology as of 2015, an implementation where referees and officials have a devise where they can check if a ball has crossed the line to award a goal. England wanted the use of this technology years before, but only through a long process of lobbying FIFA were they able to get approval. Even in this day and age when technology is used for almost every other sport around the world, from the NFL to the NBA, rugby union, tennis, cricket and a multitude of other games, the biggest game in the world with the most amount of resources is deliberately holding back World Cup events. Additional officials are implemented in the penalty box areas for certain competitions, but the EPL has proved how effective and efficient goal-line technology actually is.
11. Hierarchy Of Confederations
FIFA is an international body devised of six major confederations – AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North and Central America), CONMEBOL (South America), OFC (Oceania) and UEFA (Europe). Members and associates are divided accordingly and on paper, this appears to be a transparent democratic process that evenly distributes resources and energies to ensure the global game is kept in good health. Yet the old power of Europe continues to hold strong, with UEFA being the established power whilst the AFC is the emerging player. Asia itself is the most populous region on the globe and its soccer members are investing in their infrastructure more aggressively than the other contenders. The awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is seen by many as the handing over of power from Europe to Asia where Sepp Blatter made an educated decision to allow such an event to take place.
10. Blatant Sexism
Being top dog of FIFA since his election win in 1998, Sepp Blatter demonstrated a degree of sexism only witnessed on par with Italian Prime Ministers and nightclub owners. A 2004 interview revealed a lot about his mindset on the women’s game, saying that they should be wearing shorter shorts and “more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball.” To add further to the stupidity of the man, he wanted it known for the record that English star John Terry’s sex scandal “would have been applauded” in Latin countries because misogyny is not an issue to worry about. Class act. Aside from the disparity in payment between the male and female athletes playing the same amount of minutes with nothing in plan to close the gap in the near future, the maligning of women in the administration of soccer as well as the players themselves shows that sexism is alive and well in FIFA house.
9. 2022 Timetable Quietly Changed
Rather than consuming the World Cup in the summer when the NBA and NFL are on hiatus, the decision to hand Qatar the tournament in 2022 has shifted the sporting landscape as we know it. Rumors persisted that extreme heat would be too dangerous in July and because of this, FIFA very subtlety transitioned to a November 21st start and a December 18th Final date. Coming just a week before Christmas, this will enforce the major soccer leagues around the world to put competition on pause and in doing so, logjam American fans who have to confine all their sports viewing into a short window. 2022 appears a long way off in the distance, but we are already 50% of the way there since the bid and announcement in 2010. At that time the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and all of the elite soccer divisions will have to alter their plans and the supporters will end up being the people who suffer as a result.
8. Collusion Of Power
After people had picked their jaws up from the ground when Russia and Qatar were dubiously handed the 2018 and 2022 World Cup events, Sepp Blatter proclaimed, “You cannot avoid collusion but if there should be something wrong in such collusion then naturally somebody should intervene.” In essence the head of the most powerful and influential sports governing body on the planet passed the buck to state that he is powerless over delegates and officials scratching each other’s backs for future favors. When a Panorama documentary went public, the collusion was there for all to see, broadcasting FIFA officials discussing how a vote is bargained for and at what price. One official from the Oceania division was caught red handed speaking to an undercover journalist who he believed was a delegate, outlining that money given for new stadiums in the region would be enough to sway his vote.
7. FBI Continued Investigations
When former US Soccer executive Chuck Blazer was compromised by the FBI to rat on his corrupt friends at FIFA, the jig was up. His work as an informant started a string of events that lead to the 2015 investigation into the organization, where pictures emerged of delegates being whisked away under white sheets into sports cars around Europe. The late night comedians and daily show hosts had a field day seeing these white collar criminals being dealt some degree of justice, but those images are just the tip of the iceberg. What FIFA have failed to explain or make public is the ongoing nature of this scandal, with US attorney general Loretta Lynch making it her mission to clean up the mess left behind by Sepp Blatter and his devious cohorts who used the FIFA coffers like their own piggybank. The Federal Bureau of Investigations won’t stop until these corrupt bureaucrats are given a heavy dose of justice for abusing the positions they were elected to.
6. White Elephant Stadiums
Following in the same vein as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), allowing underdeveloped or under-resourced nations to substantially invest in brand new infrastructure leaves a huge burden of debt and stadiums that aren’t fit for purpose once the circus has left town. Headlines from various outlets following from Brazil 2014 alone are largely negative, albeit with a country that adores the sport and maintains a large economy on the world stage. From empty bus depots to 60,000 unfilled seats for regular domestic competition matches, these giant pieces of stadia serve no long-term purpose. The same happened with South Africa in 2010 where stadia that weren’t established before the tournament are languishing and standing as a permanent reminder of how the World Cup left them unfulfilled.
5. Tax Avoidance
Governments, sponsors and local business should not think twice that hosting a FIFA World Cup within a designated country would reap huge financial rewards. Otherwise, what would be the point of lobbying and spending billions to host the thing in the first place? But these people do not understand how FIFA cynically operates. South Africa 2010 was the embodiment of greed, using town centers as financial hubs to close off local economies to only deploy FIFA-sponsored shops and pay 0% tax to the South African government. Apparently the privilege of hosting the World Cup is enough and these countries should be thankful. Much like the Catholic Church, the FIFA base in Switzerland works on a tax-exempt status to help profits soar skywards time and again. If the body wants to be truly transparent and be an administration that works for the people and the sport it purports to actually be, then they will invest back into the local economies of the countries they participate in rather than take all for themselves.
4. Placating Dictators
In December last year, when he was barely holding onto the Presidency, Sepp Blatter pronounced that Russia’s Vladimir Putin deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. This was not a joke or said ironically, but a genuine belief held by Blatter. Putin responded in kind to say the FBI had no right or jurisdiction to investigate FIFA and the two became an inseparable pairing. As well as doing nothing but strengthen ties to communist China or give any sanctions to nations like Saudi Arabia, North Korea or Iran that continue to commit human rights violations, FIFA’s overly comfortable relationship with dictators demonstrates how morally corrupt they are. The lines between sport and politics can be vague and often fraught with danger, yet FIFA continue to proclaim that they are “For the Game. For the World.” That is a direct quote from their official motto. It is time to act on it for a change.
3. Money Laundering
Brave whistle blowers have removed the lid on the dollars and cents flowing out from world football to the accounts of executives on tax haven islands. Swiss bank Julius Baer was one such apparatus to facilitate these transactions, going back as far as 1986 in some cases. Members in Zurich considered Julius Baer to be “FIFA’s bank” and a favorite of the executives, where these illegal funds were pushed through and eyes were turned. The notion of wealthy bureaucrats using funds for personal gain is neither a new phenomenon nor something that would be of great surprise in FIFA circles, but the evidence of this occurring with the definitive links from one party to the next shows a level of arrogance and complacency on par with any other high levels of corruption in modern day society.
2. Slave Labor
The $260 billion investment in transforming Qatar from a small but rich Middle Eastern part of the world into a global sporting hub comes at a cost that won’t be found on any balance sheet. Transported and living in slum conditions, workers coming out of South East Asia are reportedly paid as little as $50 a week to work in severe heat and dust storms, outlining the third world economy behind a first world tournament. Many of the biggest companies on the planet use less than certifiable workers, like Apple and Nike, where the conditions are an afterthought when shareholder profits are the ultimate parameter to success in a global economy. 21st Century slave labor is a notion that is given little time or credence in the media, but FIFA is a perfect example of an organization that will use whatever means to get the job done at the cheapest price possible.
1. Deaths Building New Stadiums
It’s not bad enough these stadiums end up being useless, but thousands of workers are losing their lives to erect them in the first place. In a scandal that should have shut down operations years ago, FIFA are outsourcing the building and development of Qatar 2022 to slave labor where conditions are abhorrent and deplorable beyond all measure of decency. Importing poor workers from India and Nepal to save cost and build on profits, reports range anywhere from 1,200 to 4,000 and even rumors of 7,000 deaths as of 6 months ago. Few of these numbers are able to be verified because FIFA is denying any media access to these sites. From severe heat to malnourishment and disease, working on building new stadiums in Qatar is an incredibly risky and unfulfilled career choice – a fact that should be more public and the most scandalous fact FIFA doesn’t want you to know about.