On the morning of the 27th May the FBI marched into the well mannered Baur au Lac Hotel in Zürich. Their aim: to arrest some of the highest ranking officials within football’s global governing body FIFA on the indictment of wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. With a total of 14 people being arrested including: Rafael Esquivel (Executive Committee Member of South American Continental Association – CONMEBOL), Nicolas Leoz (Former President of CONMEBOL), Jeffrey Webb (President of the Caribbean, Central and North America Continental Association), Jack Warner (Former Vice President of FIFA), Eduardo Li (member-elect of the FIFA executive committee), Eugenio Figueredo (FIFA Vice President) and Jose Maria Marin (Former President of the Brazilian Football Confederation) the indictment hit figures right at the core of the organisation. Unsurprisingly the investigation and subsequent arrested rocked the world of football, indeed, it has dominated global news in its own right during the last 72 hours.
The very thought that the beautiful game had such an ugly underbelly and that officials as high as FIFA’s Vice President had, it is alleged, engaged in activities that were at best un-ethical at worst utterly illegal, has left a bad taste in the mouth of many football fans. With the US prosecutors alleging that some $150 million dollars (£97m) is involved the sums of money changing hands are eye-watering – far more than many of those fans would earn in a life-time. Indeed, it has been alleged that the hosting of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the first to be held on the African Continent, was in part secured by a $10 million dollar bribe that allegedly involved Jérôme Valcke (FIFA’s General Secretary) and Jake Warner (New York Times). The scandal has also thrown light on the bizarre decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a country not notable for their footballing ability awarded one of the world’s biggest sporting events held in the summer – that is right held in the summer. For a country that sees temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius during the summer months it was seemly implausible that FIFA would award the World Cup to Qatar without taking this into account – especially after the death of footballer Marc-Vivien Foé while playing in the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup that drew attention towards the importance of safety of footballers and fans alike during international competitions. Nonetheless, FIFA stated that the Qatar FA had assured them that air conditioned stadia were possible – something that they later had to retract as it became clear it was simply not viable (BBC Sport – What happened to the Qatar World Cup’s cooling technology?).
Instead, FIFA moved to a second idea, continuing to support the idea that the World Cup should remain in Qatar (with the exception of the now skeptical European Federation [UEFA]), that the World Cup should be re-schedualed to the winter of 2022. Paying scant regard to the global league systems, that had sold TV rights for years well beyond 2022, FIFA was seemingly bending over backwards to ensure that Qatar were able to hold the World Cup – something that began to raise suspicions among fans and clubs alike. Indeed, it made a mockery of the entire global club game that would now have to give way to the World Cup – while the World Cup is the most important football competition FIFA should have never so wantonly brushed aside national football leagues for it to take place.
This scandal was followed by the problems surrounding the full publication of Michael J. Garcia’s report into allegations of corruption for the hosting of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, appointed Garcia as an independent investigator into the allegations alongside German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert. He compiled his report, interviewing numerous FIFA officials (though without the ability to demand documents or subpoena individuals), completing it for release in September 2014. However, just prior to its release Eckert announced that the report would in fact not be published for legal reasons – something that took Garcia by surprise. Moreover, Eckert then moved to produce an apparent “summary” of Garcia’s 350 document into a 42 overview that cleared Qatar, as well as proposed 2018 World Cup hosts Russia, of any wrongdoing during the bidding process. While the media labeled it as a “whitewash” and Garcia himself claimed Eckert’s summary was “materially incomplete” with “erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions” (The Guardian).
UEFA, alongside a particular vocal British media, called for Garcia’s full report to be released – something that was declined by FIFA. This saw Garcia himself resign from his post as he had lost confidence in the independence of Eckert from FIFA as well as the leadership of the organisation itself – this was a damming criticism from the man FIFA had hired as an independent investigator.
The arrests of such high ranking officials in May 2015 therefore is not entirely out of the blue. Quite on the contrary, anyone that has followed world football over the last 5 years would have seen everything from dubious decisions on hosting to hints of coverups – the latest is just another in a long line of events that has undermined the credibility of global football. So with the FIFA election being held today one would imagine that the president of the organisation, Sepp Blatter, would be likely not to win – yet sadly this is not the case. Mr Blatter, who has been president for a record 17 years is firm favourite to win and retain his grasp as leader of world football. With the voting system in his favour, one that he has carefully cultivated to ensure that representatives in minor footballing nations (Burkina Faso, Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda) have as much clout as the leading associations (France, Italy, England, Germany, Brazil, Japan) Blatter looks to be set for another four years in charge.
Yet, there is hope – with UEFA openly supporting Mr Blatter’s only opponent Prince Ali bin Hussein and mounting pressure brought in due to the FBI’s investigation into systematic and endemic corruption within FIFA it would seem that Mr Blatter’s time is drawing to a close. Indeed, many would argue he is already in “extra-time” as regardless of the result there will be immense pressure on Mr Blatter to resign making. It is therefore unlikely the he will see out another four years in office even if he was able to win todays election – the really question is can FIFA recover from the damage it has sustained with him at the helm when full-time does come on his premiership.
Story by Matthew Rusk
This story does not represent the views of Fresh Start UK, purely the view of the author. What are your thoughts on how FIFA can address the issues of corruption within global football? Get in touch!