Given FIFA’s well-known culture of corruption and ethical problems, it’s almost a miracle that Sepp Blatter was finally convinced to resign in June of 2015. But FIFA’s accountability problems aren’t a recent development. FIFA is not exactly an organization that’s a stranger to scandal. The recent Sepp Blatter scorcher was only the latest in a long line of ethical problems for one of the world’s largest, most influential and most notorious sports organizations.
As the saying goes: absolute power corrupts absolutely. To say that FIFA is a powerful organization would be more than an understatement; each World Cup event generates billions of dollars of revenue for the world’s largest football association. By far, television and marketing rights are the biggest money maker for the company. But FIFA’s soulless corporate partners don’t mind the scandals-- they are all more than happy to throw money at FIFA, so long as their advertising messages continue to be broadcast worldwide during commercial breaks.
Perhaps FIFA is just too big to control. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and FIFA nearly has a monopoly over it. FIFA has more member countries than the United Nations and its yearly net profit figures are comparable to Luxembourg’s GDP. Its headquarters are in Zurich, so the association must abide by Swiss laws-- but policing an organization with over a billion dollars of cash reserves isn’t a simple task.
Insiders have known about corruption at FIFA for years, but it took an intervention by the United States FBI to get the ball rolling in the Blatter case. Allegedly Blatter’s plots were hatched on U.S. soil and dirty money flowed through U.S. banks, making it possible for American authorities to intervene. Further U.S.-Swiss cooperation might lead to more revelations, but it could very well be that the punishments inflicted on FIFA executives won’t be enough to change FIFA’s corporate culture in any significant ways. After all, this is an organization whose 111 year history is more than checkered-- it’s absolutely sordid. FIFA executives always seem to be up to something nefarious: lining their own wallets with stolen cash, buying re-election votes, supporting tyrants around the world, ignoring human rights issues and discriminating against minorities are just a few of their most notable offenses.
13 Institutionalized Ticket Scalping
FIFA officials have special access to tickets, but when they are caught scalping them FIFA always looks the other way. In Rio de Janeiro, an unnamed FIFA official was caught working with local hustlers to illegally re-sell tickets for multiple times their listed value during the 2014 World Cup. The hustler-- an Algerian by the name of Mohamadou Lamine Fofana-- had been meeting with the unnamed FIFA official at the Copacabana Palace Hotel. Back in 2006, FIFA official Ismail Bhamjee of Botswana was caught by British police selling 12 tickets for triple the price. In the aftermath of the scandal, Bhamjee was sent home and he later resigned his position.
12 Fake It Until You Reform It
There have been multiple attempts to reform FIFA over the years, but none of them have been very serious. Michael Garcia, a lawyer from the United States, spent multiple years looking into corruption around the World Cup bidding process. He presented a 430 page report in 2014, which was then presented to the public as a “summary” that left out all the shocking details of his investigation. Garcia quit FIFA shortly after the summary was released. Swiss prosecutor Mark Pieth also investigated FIFA back in 2011, but his report was also watered down and then ignored by FIFA executives. Clearly, attempts at reform at FIFA are nothing more than PR stunts.
11 FIFA’s Filthy Modern Father
Most experts agree that former FIFA president João Havelange is the man responsible for modernizing the organization. In particular, Havelange was able to understand the importance of sponsorship and its potential for profit. Under Havelange’s watch, FIFA grew into a multibillion dollar sports empire-- but it also devolved into a cesspool of financial corruption. In 2012, a Swiss prosecutor finally caught Havelange with his hand in the cookie jar. After being charged with accepting over $23 million in bribes from marketing companies in the 1990s, Havelange was forced to resign. Shortly afterwards, Havelange was replaced by his infamous protegé, Sepp Blatter.
10 No Blacks or Asians, Please
Sir. Stanley Rous of England was president of FIFA before Havelange. Rous wasn’t as greedy as Havelange-- he wasn’t involved in any scandals involving money, at least as far as the public knows-- but he also lacked business acumen. Instead of expanding FIFA and promoting soccer outside of Europe, he actually fought to keep the association smaller. In the 1966 World Cup tournament, there was only one spot for Asia and Africa-- effectively guaranteeing that at least one team from Europe would always make it to the championship game. Additionally, Rous allowed apartheid South Africa to play FIFA soccer and ignored critics who accused his organization of supporting institutionalized racism.
9 Cash for Votes: FIFA’s Uncontrollable Blatter Problem
Blatter continued FIFA executives’ hallowed modern era tradition of accepting bribes from marketing companies. In June of 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice found Blatter guilty of accepting over $150 million in bribes from companies interested in FIFA broadcasting rights-- but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Other allegations against Blatter claimed he had accepted bribes from Russia and Qatar during the World Cup bidding process. He also paid for the votes that got him elected as FIFA president in the first place, back in 1998. Shockingly, Blatter managed to get reelected as president of FIFA in the midst of the 2015 investigations, only to resign after further details began to emerge.
8 That’ll Be $15 Billion, Please
Presidents Blatter and Havelange were willing to allow developing countries to play FIFA soccer, but only as long as they were willing to pay the price. FIFA provided nothing in the way of funds to help Brazil and South Africa set up World Cup caliber stadiums. As a result, the impoverished citizens of those nations were faced with increased taxes and benefit reductions. South Africa shelled out $4 billion in 2010 and Brazil spent $15 billion on World Cup construction. Protests in Brazil over the misleading way that the World Cup was sold to the people (at first the government said that no public money would be used to construct the arenas, but in the end Brazilians paid for almost everything) were ignored by FIFA.
7 Fixed Exhibition Matches
A FIFA investigation revealed that referees from South Africa were bribed into fixing at least 15 exhibition games. The report was quite detailed and a referee was named in being the primary person involved in the scandal-- yet, not one person was fired as a result of the investigation. The most basic job of a sports association is to ensure that the basic rules of the game are being followed. With their non-reaction, FIFA is sending the message that as long as people are still showing up to stadiums in droves and tuning in on TVs to lay eyeballs on advertisements, FIFA doesn’t really care if the games are actually real or not.
6 The Most Pathetic Match in the History of Football
In 1973, Chile played the easiest game of their lives. The other team (the U.S.S.R.) decided to stay home that day. The problem was political in nature. The new Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was not only torturing his communist opposition, he was using the World Cup soccer stadium as the venue for their detainment. In response to outrage from the Soviets, FIFA performed a superficial investigation of the arena-- a lackadaisical once-over that didn’t even include a full inspection of the entire premises. If the inspectors hadn’t “forgotten” to look in the basement, they would have discovered thousands of gagged prisoners being held there at gunpoint.
FIFA’s limp-wristed investigation didn’t satisfy the Russians, so the the U.S.S.R team didn’t show up to play in the qualifying play-off game. A lack of an opponent, however, didn’t stop the Chilean players from running across the field to kick a symbolic goal into the net, thus “winning” the game and a spot in the 1974 World Cup for Chile. Writer Eduardo Galeano called it “the most pathetic match in the history of football.” FIFA allowed it to happen.
5 Torture, Rape and Kidnapping Condoned: Argentina’s Dirty War and the 1978 World Cup
FIFA cooperated with another ruthless dictator once again in 1978, this time in Argentina. The political situation was similar to Chile’s in 1974, except the torture inflicted by the government against the socialist opposition was even more extreme. Prisoners were hung on hooks for days or raped with metal rods and then electrocuted, according to an ESPN report. In response to allegations of human rights violations, the Argentinian government came up with this slogan: “We Argentines are both right and human.” Every year, more and more shocking details about the Dirty War emerge. Yet, FIFA continues to strike an oblivious pose. In 2013, FIFA president Sepp Blatter had this to say regarding the 1978 World Cup: “I was happy Argentina won. This was kind of a reconciliation of the public, of the people of Argentina, with the system, the political system, the military system at the time.”
4 Qatar’s Lethal, Inhumane World Cup Construction Project
Qatar’s desert climate and filthy, dangerous working conditions virtually guarantee that thousands of migrant workers will die during their World Cup construction project. Migrant workers are treated like slaves; they aren’t allowed to leave their filthy, sewage-soaked work sites even though construction companies are too cheap or lazy to haul away garbage. Accidents are under-reported and injured laborers are sent home if they are unable to continue working. Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation have all confirmed that conditions at the labor camps guarantee that thousands will die during the construction of the World Cup stadiums, but so far FIFA has done nothing to force Qatar to take better care of their migrant labor (or strip them of the World Cup entirely).
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