The transparent exterior of FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland was supposed to be a symbol of transparency. But since most of its levels are below ground, the home of football’s global governing body doesn’t get much sunlight.
Seven years ago, a massive corruption scandal led to the arrests of dozens of FIFA officials and aides. With the men’s World Cup final being held in Doha, Qatar, this Sunday, critics say the organization is still keeping outsiders in the dark about what’s going on in its Swiss hideout.
“Wherever you can’t see through seemingly nonprofits like FIFA, all the lies, cheating and theft happen here,” said Mel Brennan, a former official at CONCACAF, FIFA’s governing body for football organizations in the North. and Central America and the Caribbean.
Ten years ago, Brennan worked with investigative journalist Andrew Jennings and others to expose corruption within CONCACAF. Its secretary-general, Chuck Blazer, later admitted to US investigators that he and other FIFA board members had taken bribes ahead of various World Cups.
“FIFAs have gotten brighter since then,” Brennan said. “As for whether there’s been any real change, I think they’ve gotten even more slippery.”
At this year’s tournament in Qatar, allegations of corruption were almost as glaring as the events on the ground. US prosecutors accused FIFA officials of taking bribes in exchange for voting for Qatar’s 2010 and Russia’s 2018 men’s World Cup hosting bid.
‘No checks and balances’
FIFA itself says it’s ready to move forward by launching “comprehensive reforms” under president Gianni Infantino since 2016, including an overhaul of its ethics and changes to how World Cup hosts are selected.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded FIFA and other football organizations $201 million (CAD 240 million) for damages lost by their managers and others as “victims” of various corruption schemes.
“FIFA has gone from being toxic, almost criminal, to a solid and respected organization that develops football as it should be,” a FIFA spokesperson told CBC News.
But Brennan and other long-time observers believe FIFA and its football affiliates still need a much bigger shake-up before fans can be sure the sport’s darkest days are over, as Canada, the United States and Mexico jointly host the next men’s World Championship. believes. trophy in 2026.
New York Times reporter and writer Ken Bensinger said: “Reforms on transparency and external regulation that will help — we haven’t seen any of that.” Red Card: How the US Stole the World’s Biggest Sports Scandal.
The problem is finding someone who can put it in order. FIFA is not a company and is not affiliated with any government. It is a non-profit, multi-billion dollar organization with more member states than the United Nations.
And observers point out that this is largely irresponsible to anyone but himself.
“There is no checks and balances in global football,” said journalist Roger Bennett, co-host of football podcasts. Men Wearing Blazers and The World Is Corrupted.
“Nobody understands [FIFA’s] processes. They don’t have to explain it,” said Bennett, “it’s been compared to the drug cartel or the mafia, but none of that because it’s coming to light with so-called global legitimacy.”
chasing football money
At the highest level is the FIFA president and decision-making council, elected by 211 members, both representing the national football associations.
In the process of selecting future World Cup hosts, each member has one vote. Before 2016, that power only belonged to the 24 members of FIFA’s now-defunct executive committee. The amendment was intended to prevent homeowners from bribing voters, but Bensinger cautions that it is not bulletproof.
“In a sense, you’re just increasing the number of people who need to be bribed. There’s still no outside surveillance.”
Since 2016, FIFA has also increased its control of billions of dollars in revenues and expenses.
The organization makes most of its money by selling TV broadcast rights, sponsorship and licensing for its international tournaments, such as the World Cup, which has generated record $7.5 billion in revenue from commercial deals over the past four years. Many former sponsors, including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Adidas, are stuck with FIFA with their scandals.
The bulk of FIFA’s funds are redistributed to national and regional football organizations around the world. Over the past decades, these millions of dollars have been embezzled with little care by the authorities, including Chuck Blazer.
Outside experts say FIFA is making legitimate improvements to track where that money goes – but keeping an eye on the 211 different customers is difficult.
“Many of the national federations in small countries lack basic administrative skills and you have to tell them all the basics and how to budget and stick to it before starting the compliance program,” said Sylvia Schenk. is a sports expert at Transparency International, currently volunteering as a human rights watchdog at the World Cup in Qatar.
“This is a huge challenge and a huge task. FIFA has started working on it and the controls have improved, but there are still a lot of problems.”
‘Everyone will applaud us’
When Infantino ran to replace the disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2016, he did so with the promise of cleaning up the organization and restoring integrity to global football.
“We will restore FIFA’s image and FIFA’s reputation. And everyone in the world will applaud us,” Infantino said in his election speech.
Infantino remains unopposed for third term, surviving FIFA ethics investigation, but still faces a criminal investigation in Switzerland for his relations with the country’s former attorney general. Federal prosecutor Hans Maurer declined to comment on the state of the investigation.
Despite FIFA’s promises of change, this year’s decision to award the World Cup to Qatar remains emblematic of its problems: It has been willing to ignore human rights time and again, while chasing money and new football markets.
So many critics of FIFA were not surprised when Infantino begged critics on the eve of this year’s World Cup to focus on football instead of the many discussions about the tournament in Qatar.
“The Infantino regime will say they’ve cleared out the old guard and the rot is gone. But whether you can actually reform an establishment like this is a much broader question,” said Miles Coleman, writer and producer of the new Netflix. documentary series FIFA Revealed. “I think we should see 20 to 30 years ahead, if possible.”
Meanwhile, despite lamenting FIFA’s various scandals, teams, sponsors and fans seem happy enough to return for another World Cup every four years.
“Once the ball is kicked, you forget about bureaucracy, processes and human darkness… and you lose yourself in the excitement of football,” Bennett said.
“FIFA knows that if they keep playing the hits, they can move forward and keep going.”