Soccer is the world’s most popular game. It is played in every country on Earth, a claim that no other sport can make. It is known as the beautiful game, and anyone who has seen a Lionel Messi goal after a long run, or a Zlatan Ibrahimovic piece of magic, could hardly argue.
However, behind the scenes is a whole other matter. The Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA for short, has been playing some ugly games away from the field.
This past week, FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter won the most recent election, with little contest. A few days later, amidst growing international skepticism, and FBI-led arrests of several major executives, he resigned the position and will likely be replaced by Jordanian Prince Ali bin Hussein.
Among other accusations, the American and British investigation team concluded that FIFA executives had accepted bribes from governments and corporations, did little to end racism in the sport, forced alcohol back into Brazilian stadiums, and passively accepted the deaths of over a thousand migrant workers in Qatar.
And that’s just in the past year.
FIFA has been subject to accusations and investigations before, and has always managed to come out smelling like roses. Here is a look at some of the most incredible FIFA scandals of all time.
10. 2015 FIFA Corruption Scandal
This past week, 14 members of FIFA’s executive committee were arrested in Zurich for a combination of money laundering, wire fraud, and money laundering, in connection with decades of abuse of their influential positions. Everything from World Cup location selections, clothing sponsorships, and FIFA presidential elections. In essence, billions of dollars have been spent, illegally or at the very least, inappropriately, and most FIFA executive committee members used their positions not for the betterment of the sport, but merely to line their pockets.
9. Issa Hayatou
In the 1990s Cameroonian Issa Hayatou had a hand in deciding which networks would broadcast the World Cup. As it turned out, rather than giving fair evaluation of each network applicant, Hayatou accepted 100,000 French Francs to award the contract to a company called ISL. In addition, Hayatou is also alleged to have accepted 1.5 million dollars to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup.
8. Jack Warner
The CONCACAF president, and former vice-president of FIFA, has had his name come up on more than one occasion for a variety of offences. The most innocuous of those indicate that his family business, a travel and tourism company, sold tickets to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea. Of course, the methods that a FIFA executive might have come to possess those tickets is questionable.
Greater offences include receiving cash and gifts in exchange for voting in favour of Russia’s 2018 bid, and depositing money that FIFA donated to Haiti earthquake relief into a private account.
7. Chuck Blazer
Alongside Jack Warner, American Chuck Blazer was a top executive in CONCACAF. He and Warner were close associates and, apparently, fraud buddies. Blazer used CONCACAF money to beef up his personal bank account, and was nicknamed Mr. 10 percent, in reference to his ability to put himself into deals as a third party skimmer. Blazer turned FBI informant, and is widely considered the most important whistle blower in the current FIFA scandal.
6. Reynald Temarii, Amos Adamu and Mohamed bin Hammam
In the aftermath of the vote that would eventually give Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup, two executive members, Reynald Temarii and Amos Adamu, were banned from participating in FIFA decisions. It was revealed that, in order to secure that Qatar would win that vote, Mohamed bin Hammam, another FIFA executive member, himself a Qatari, agreed to fund Temarii’s defense in a previous scandalous lawsuit. Confused yet? Well, it gets worse. Since Temarii represented the Oceania Football Confederation, which was slated to vote for Australia hosting the 2022 tournament instead of Qatar, the OFC had to give up its vote in that process, thereby removing a strong rival and helping ensure Qatar would win the bid. The cost for that purchase? Over 300,000 Euros.
Adamu, as head of the African delegation to FIFA, was also accused of receiving money in exchange for voting in favour or Russia’s bid for the 2018 World Cup. His price? Over 500,000 dollars. His penalty? A three-year ban, and 10,000 Swiss Francs.
5. Racism in Soccer
The issue of racism in international soccer, particularly in Europe, has existed as long as professional soccer itself. But while FIFA claims to take a strong stance against racism, it has done little in actual fact to deal with the issue. Players, coaches, and journalists all seem to agree that deducting points and money from teams based on players’ or fans’ words and actions will be a useful tool to lessen the problem. However, FIFA has declined to institute and enforce a uniform rule across all domestic leagues and international tournaments. Until then, as some players seem to think, fighting racism seems to be a lost cause.
4. Budweiser Beer Sales in Brazil 2014
After years of trouble with alcohol in Brazilian soccer stadiums, including violence, drunk driving, and sexual assaults, officials in Brazil decided to ban alcohol sales in soccer stadiums. For the most part, it seemed to make stadiums safer and more enjoyable. Then, when the World Cup came to the country in 2014, FIFA enforced (perhaps influenced by major sponsor Budweiser) that stadiums would sell alcohol during World Cup games. While there were few reported incidents as a direct result of alcohol sales, FIFA’s sheer disregard for a nation’s laws and historical precedent seemed that they were placing money over the safety of fans and players.
3. Russia Wins 2018 World Cup Bid
While their population struggles to eat three healthy meals a day, and their troops are occupying their neighbour Ukraine, Russia seemed an unlikely choice to host FIFA’s ultimate event, the World Cup. Yet, even though they lacked the required 80,000 seat stadium, they defeated England in a December 2010 vote to secure the tournament. Four years later, when faced with an internal FIFA investigation, the computers used by executives, along with the e-mail chains between Russian organizers and FIFA executives, were found to have disappeared or been destroyed.
2. Qatar Wins 2022 World Cup Bid
Even more unbelievable than Russia winning was Qatar being chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. With summer temperatures approaching 110 degrees, climate was just one reason to look elsewhere for an Asian destination. Qatar is widely considered one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world, with little freedom of expression or civil liberties. While observers protested the choice, President Blatter and his fellow FIFA executives stood by their decision.
Then, reports began to filter out about migrant workers from parts of Africa and the Middle East being abused, and even dying, in Qatar’s quest to build brand new, state-of-the-art, air-conditioned stadiums for the tournament. Reports as of June 2015 indicate that as many as 1,200 workers have died, and some human rights agencies predict that total could rise to as many as 4,000 by the time the tournament begins.
1. Sepp Blatter
Imagine if you heard on the news of an election with only one candidate. I’m sure you would not think much of the democracy and transparency of such an election. For the past 17 years, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, has presided over FIFA. Many of his election victories have been without a real opposition, and even his first election, back in 1998, is subject to much suspicion.
In 1998, Blatter stood against Lennart Johansson, who claimed to stand for honesty and transparency. According to author David Yallop, a mysterious Middle-Eastern broker gave FIFA executives $50,000 each to vote for Blatter. Was this the very beginning of the steep decline of morality in soccer’s governing body? Would things have worked out differently if Johansson had won that critical election?
After that, Blatter became virtually untouchable atop FIFA’s pyramid. So much so, that in 2011, Blatter ran unopposed to win his fourth consecutive term, which ended, along with his career, only a few days ago in tatters.