What a time to be a soccer fan.
The Champions League has concluded with Lionel Messi’s Barcelona FC triumphing over Juventus of Serie A, and the Women’s World Cup is well under way, with Canada advancing to the Quarterfinals with an upset 1-0 victory against Switzerland.
Oh yeah, and the biggest FIFA scandal ever just unfolded.
Early on the morning of May 27th, 2015, several top FIFA executives were arrested in a Swiss hotel on criminal charges of money laundering, racketeering and wire fraud; all are facing extradition to the United States. These arrests were the result of an FBI investigation. This was a breath of fresh air for many soccer fans, and would end up being the starting point for significant change within the organization.
It’s been common knowledge for some time now that FIFA is amongst the most corrupt organizations on the planet, with executives receiving bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding World Cups, media and marketing rights, as well as other, lower profile tournaments and games, totaling an estimated $150 million in North America alone.
Additionally, former FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner (who was among the arrested) has been accused of personally accepting a $10 million bribe relating to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and bribing committee members for votes by handing out envelopes of cash. The extent of their corruption is so vast that, in an attempt to defend himself and FIFA, Warner released a video claiming that the U.S. orchestrated these arrests because they were “sore losers” for not being awarded the 2022 World Cup. He then cited a satirical article from The Onion stating that the U.S. had been awarded an ‘Emergency World Cup’ that would begin that afternoon.
Yes, you read that right. The former vice-president of the global governing body for soccer believed that they would award an impromptu World Cup to dissuade any accusations of corruption.
However, above all this controversy and scandal, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, remained unscathed. All of this corruption and bribery have taken place under him, and it was on his authority that the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar as a result of bribery. The scandal surrounding the 2022 World Cup is another story entirely, because not only is the desert in the summer a terrible venue for outdoor sports, but because the human rights abuse it involves are appalling.
The stadiums for the tournament are being built with what is essentially slave labour, and already over 1000 migrant workers have died since construction began in 2010. That number is astronomical, as in the past four Olympics (Sochi, London, Vancouver and Beijing) and two World Cups (Brazil and South Africa) combined, only 81 workers have died (60 were from Sochi alone). Under Blatter, FIFA has turned a blind eye to this, citing the Qatari government’s claim that zero workers have died, which is very unlikely.
Just two days following the arrests, on May 29th, the FIFA presidential election was held, and the incumbent Blatter was reelected, with 65% of the popular vote in the first round, just short of the two-thirds majority required. However, his opponent withdrew his candidacy before the second round of voting could be held.
This result was to be expected though, because, you guessed it: more corruption. Many of FIFA’s voting members are very small countries who have an interest in keeping the status quo within the organization. The revenue sharing is equal for all voting members, thus tiny countries receive the same amount of money as the larger ones they outnumber. The fact that Blatter even had an opponent is surprising, as in 2011 he ran unopposed.
Blatter’s victory would not last long though because four days later on June 2nd, he would resign following the breaking of the story regarding the aforementioned bribes to Jack Warner relating to the 2010 World Cup. Warner, having recognized the compromised position he was in, threatened to release documents implicating Blatter in the criminal activity for which he and the other executives were arrested for, finally involving the president in the scandal directly.
So what are the implications of this? While it is certainly fantastic news, don’t rejoice quite yet soccer fans, as there’s still a lot more to be done. As of now, the 2022 World Cup will still be held in Qatar, Blatter is still running FIFA until another election can be held, and much of the damage has already been done. However, with the world’s eyes now on FIFA, as well as the FBI keeping very close watch on them, it is likely that the magnitude of corruption that has just been uncovered will cease, and more progress will be made.
FIFA isn’t clean entirely yet, but the worst of the bunch are out of the picture for good.