Friday, May 29, 2015

(Sports) FIFA: Finally Someone Gave FIFA The Red Card for Bringing The Game Into Disrepute

The events of Wednesday which saw 9 FIFA officials arrested brought a lot of surprise among spectators of the sport but not much shock as football fans across the world are patently aware that FIFA is probably the most corrupt sporting organization in the history of sport itself.

The organization has been subject to one damaging report, inquiry, expose and incident after another for years on end with no one really taking real action to reform the organization or against the number of individuals under the organization’s banner who have been accused of graft until now with the US Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Swiss Attorney General, shocking the world with its bold action against a number of leading officials in the much disliked organization.

We’ve always known that a number of individuals in the organization we’re dirty but looking at the charges levied against the group Swiss authorities bagged up from the stylish Baur au Lac hotel, these soon to be former FIFA officials are looking at serious time behind should they found guilty. According to a report by Forbes magazine, “the charges allege a widespread pattern of corruption—including the bid process for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals, according to three law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case. According to the report, charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and officials said they targeted members of FIFA’s powerful executive committee”[1].

The nine individuals charged by US and Swiss authorities are or were high ranking officials in FIFA with some even holding more than one key role including current FIFA Vice president, executive committee member of Caribbean Football Union and Cayman Islands Football Association President Jeffrey Webb, Former FIFA vice president and CONCACAF president Jack Warner and current FIFA vice president and executive committee member Eugenio Figueredo. The charges are also levied against four other sports marketing executives.

This news comes at the worst time for FIFA president Sepp Blatter currently in the middle of a presidential election he’s heavily tipped to win and handily even in light of the news of a slew of current and former FIFA executive committee members have been placed under arrest and set to be extradited to the US.

However, while this news wasn’t welcome to FIFA HQ, it was the best news football fans and insiders have had about FIFA in years as, frankly, FIFA and football itself could have done with this type of bold action ages ago.

Allegations of corruption have engulfed the sporting body for years on end with little to no action taken against the individuals involved despite the countless reports providing solid evidence of wrongdoing. How FIFA is setup and run leaves it open to graft and outright bribery as accountability is left seriously wanting. The lack of accountability is why FIFA’s executive committee can get away with secretly awarding itself a pay rise and Blatter can allegedly, according to International Businesses Times, get away with rewarding the members of the  executive committee with “$4.4 million in bonuses after FIFA’s windfall at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa”[2].

This lack of accountability persists because the most powerful figures in FIFA with the power to effect change won’t push for reform because they’re complicit in the organization’s corruptibility. FIFA’s executive committee is easily it’s most corrupt decision making body in the organization as the majority of individuals mired in the scandals in the last 15 years where either serving or former vice presidents or members of  the committee.

Just two weeks before the Swiss raid, another executive committee member was mired in scandal as former FIFA vice president and Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) president Reynald Temarii was banned for 8 years for making the truly stupid mistake of taking money from former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam (mired in scandal himself as you’ll find out later) to fight, you guessed it, a corruption case back in 2011. Corruption on top of corruption is what you find when you take a closer look at truly rotten organization that is FIFA as the body initially punished Temarii for “breaking confidentiality and loyalty rules by discussing the World Cup votes with undercover reporters from the Sunday Times”[3].

Temarii, along with a slew of  current and former FIFA executive committee members, have all fallen victim from the fall out of Russia and Qatar winning the right to host the 2018 and 2022 with many still baffled as to how Qatar won the 2022 bid but just about everybody had the same idea about why they won.

Impropriety surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process has been part of the FBI’s investigation against the nine former and current FIFA executives which has led to their headline making arrest and inevitable extradition. Their investigation centered around, you guessed it, another former FIFA executive committee member and former General Secretary of CONCACAF Chuck Blazer who was cooperating the FBI in light of his own tax beef with the feds since 2011.

Chuck Blazer, who served under Jack Warner ( one of the nine targeted by the joint US and Swiss operation)  is responsible for Warner’s initial dismissal from FIFA as he informed FIFA back in 2011 of a vote buying plot between the then CONCACAF president and former FIFA presidential candidate Mohammed bin Hammam (remember him?) to sure up votes in Caribbean[4]. Blazer’s cooperation With the FBI saw him, according to the NY Daily News, wired up in conversations with “Russian, Hungarian, Australian and American soccer officials to arrange meetings the feds wanted him to secretly record” among others[5]. Blazer has been at the center of a sprawling investigation that’s global in nature and “stretch from the Caribbean to Zurich, from Australia to Moscow to Qatar, the small Arab nation playing host to the 2022 World Cup”[6]. Given how sprawling this investigation has been, there strong suggestion that the 14 arrests are just the beginning.

FIFA, instead of seriously attempting to address the numerous accounts of corruptions surrounding the 2018 and 2022 bidding process has either done nothing to reform how decisions get made in the organization or stymied independent investigations into wrongdoing surrounding the bidding process.

The best example to illustrate just how impervious FIFA is to true accountability is how it basically killed Michael Garcia’s report regarding the 2018 and 2022 bidding process as FIFA’ ethics committee published just 40 pages of Garcia’s 430 page that cleared Russia and Qatar (and by extension FIFA itself) of all wrongdoing.

However, Garcia’s report was doomed from the start as Bonita Mersiades, a FIFA whistleblower who claimed she received threats in planning to release a book about the World Cup bidding process, rightly noted that “The whole concept of having an investigation by FIFA about FIFA by people paid by FIFA - that's not what an independent investigation is”[7].

This ridiculous state of affairs is only matched by the justifications for not publishing Garcia’s report in full with current FIFA president Sepp Blatter citing that publishing the report in full would “violate not only it's in rules and regulations but also Swiss law by making public the report in question”[8]. Blatter is well aware that this is not particularly true as his main motive is not get to the truth about the world cup bidding process but protect the organization from legal attacks as Blatter believed “every person in the report would have to give consent to publication - something that would be practically impossible”[9].

However Blatter and FIFA are going to need more than ridiculous excuses to survive the aftermath of US and Swiss operation that started with the surprising decision to go with Russia and Qatar given, according to Grantland “FIFA’s inspection team had evaluated all nine bids and rated Russia and Qatar as the riskiest of the lot”[10] . Both nations’s ability to host an event of the World Cups magnitude were questioned as Russia “presented major infrastructure problems” and Qatar, according to FIFA’s own inspection team members, blazing hot summers posed a “ potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators”[11]. The winning bids also didn’t make commercial sense as other bids from countries like England, the United States and Japan ”outperformed the winning nations in both tournament-readiness and revenue potential”[12].

Add into the pot that both countries have poor human rights records, a less than cordial stance towards the LGBT community and are both undemocratic, you get the feeling that something is amiss.

Since then, Qatar has been a rolling headache for FIFA and Blatter since the announcement of their winning bid with the press, unions and various human rights organizations shinning a damning light on the horrendous conditions suffered by migrant workers charged with bringing to life Qatar ambitions plans for World Cup 2022. FIFA has a lost a number of sponsors thanks to the tragic stories of workers dying on site, their families not being able to bury their dead and workers being denied their ability to leave as Deadspin reported that They’re (migrant workers, mostly from Nepal) generally banned from leaving the country, period, or quitting their jobs, or traveling anywhere in a FIFA-branded Kia, because they are slaves”[13].

The increasing focus on the horrible conditions of migrant workers in Qatar has also shone light on the business deals that made these horrible conditions possible with Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz zeroing in on oil company Petrolina and it director who not only sits on the FIFA executive committee but backed Russia’s and Qatar’s winning bids. Petrolina has come up trumps since as the cyprus based company made  lucrative energy deals with both Russia and Qatar which saw their “profits (go up) by a third”[14].

The terrible conditions suffered by migrant workers in Qatar has inspired outrage from the Nepalese government (Nepal has a large number of citizens working in Qatar) who were less than pleased when the gulf country refused to give Nepal workers on World Cup construction projects special leave  who lost their relatives in a deadly earthquake a month ago. The reason given for the refusal was quite telling as Qatar stressed, according to Nepal’s labour minister, “the pressure to complete (World Cup) projects on time”[15]. What this means is, thanks to FIFA migrant workers from Nepal will have wait to say goodbye to loved ones because their bosses are feeling the pressure from on high to make further progress at their expense.

This horrible state of affairs is only possible because Nepal is neither the biggest or most powerful country in world which allows Qatar and FIFA to basically ignore the country and the needs of citizens just to keep up on schedule for the 2022 deadline which shows A level indifference and D level humanity on part of both Qatar and FIFA.     

This A level Indifference and D level Humanity was displayed by current FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke who recently paid a visit to Qatar and praised the facilities despite surely being aware that World Cup construction sites has claimed thousands of lives and if the 2022 World Cup goes ahead, is estimated to claim more lives than the September 11th attacks[16].

FIFA has been under pressure from sponsors of late after thanks to the truly miserable conditions migrant workers find themselves in building the vision Qatari officials sold FIFA on to host the 2022 world cup. Just last week long time FIFA sponsor Visa was compelled to release to encourage FIFA to "remedy" the harrowing stories regarding the poor conditions of migrant workers[17].  Sponsors almost never urge Fifa to take on issues like the treatment of migrant workers but given how bad it’s making both FIFA and its sponsors look, it was only a matter of time.

Sponsors themselves have the subject of external pressure as the guardian reported “a coalition of trade union groups and MPs coordinated by Jaimie Fuller, chairman of the sportswear company Skins, called on sponsors to take a stand against the abuse of migrant workers in the tiny Gulf state (Qatar)”[18].

Russia on the other hand, much like Brazil previously, are feeling the weight of the financial burden placed on the country. There are even questions surrounding whether Russia has the means to brook the financial cost to host the 2018 World Cup in lieu of crippling sanctions from the west. Also taking into consideration that the low oil prices has had a detrimental effect to Russia’s energy driven economy, it’s no surprise that the Russian government has announced a $71 million cut to its $13.2 billion World Cup budget[19] .

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, has so far had no charges levied against him by the DoJ or Swiss authorizes but has received calls from far and wide to resign from his post just a day out from the organization's presidential election which he is slated to win handily. This is quite remarkable given the sitting FIFA president has been surrounded by scandal pretty much since he got the top job. Unlike any other election, you'll hear no hear no praise nor read no tracts bolstering his incumbency simply because no one, and I mean no one, is in support of his presidency outside of the large sums of money FIFA has generated and distributed to its member nations over his reign.

Blatter is comfortably the most unpopular man in the sport and yet it looks like he will get an extra four years presiding over an organization that has brought the beautiful game into disrepute. FIFA's current president will likely hear numerous calls for him to step down as his position has become untenable given the level of corruption that has proliferated under his watch which exposes Blatter to claims of either his complicity or incompetence given that so much graft has been exposed in the past but largely gone unpunished.

How such a man can endure in a position of power while being a grossly unpopular figure is testament to how the organization itself is setup and the returns FIFA have made off the World Cups sponsorship and TV deals under Blatter's reign. While FIFA is a non-profit, the organization makes money hand over fist and this gives Blatter a lot of power to buy friends in the organization to secure his power base. Because the member nation’s benefit from the fantastic return Blatter has managed under his reign, it gives member nations the incentive to, in the words of Forbes Magazine's Zach Bergson, "vote for status quo and more financial success by many delegates"

This  sorry state of affairs ensures that despite how bad the organization reeks of corruption, member of FIFA's congress have to grin and bear one shameful scandal after another as their choice to stick with the devil they know rather they angel they don't ensures the sport is set to endure more incidents that blacken the name of the sport.

It also ensures that Blatter can even gloat about his staying power as he recently referred to himself as a “mountain goat that keeps going and going and going” after his two of his rivals for the presidency dropped out of the campaign[20]. However the stamina of the mountain goal is not appreciated everybody as Argentine and all time football great Diego Maradona laid waste to the incumbent Fifa president emphasizing the damning irony of the notable lack of popular support for Blatter’s presidency yet the air of inevitability among many in the sport about his re-election as Fifa president.

Maradona attacked the incumbent president record on addressing racism in the sport and women’s football as he barbed ““Recently he pledged to follow through in addressing racism in football and promoting women in the sport. That made me laugh. My question is: ‘Sepp, what were you doing in your last four terms?’”[21]. However, Maradona last sentence regarding Blatter reign and Fifa seemed to echo associated the sentiment of just about everybody in the sport as he noted “If this is the face of international, we are in a very bad place”.

A very bad place indeed.

[1] M. Brown, 2015, More Than 10 FIFA Officials Arrested Over Corruption, Scheduled To Be Extradited To US,
[2] T. Barrabi, 2014, FIFA Secret Pay Raises: Executive Committee members had Salaries Doubled, report says,
[4] T.Thompson et al, 2014, Soccer Rat! The inside story of Chuck Blazer, ex-US soccer executive and FIFA bigwig, became a confidential informant for the FBI,
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Sky Sports, 2014, FIFA corruption whistleblower reveals threats over book about 2022 bidding process,
[8] Daily Record, 2014,  FIFA president Sepp Blatter rejects English FA over allegations of corruption,
[9] Ibid      
[10] B. Phillips, 2011, Corruption, Murder, and the Beautiful Game,
[11] Ibid, (quote by B.Phillips)
[12] Ibid
[13] T.Burke, 2015, FIFA Slaves Banned From Attending Relatives Funerals,
[14] D.Moskovitz, 2015, German TV program Shows Qatar Slave Conditions, More FIFA Corruption,
[15] M. Hanrahan, 2015, Nepali Minister Blast Qatar, FIFA, Over Treatment Of World Cup Migrant Workers,
[16] B. Glanville, 2015, FIFA’s den of thieves free to carry on with their corruption,
[17] O. Gibson, 2015, Visa expresses ‘grave concern’ to Fifa over migrant work in Qatar,
[18] Ibid
[19] Ibid
[20] The Guardian, 2015, Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, likens himself to a mountain goat,
[21] Ibid, ( Quote by the Guardian)

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