If you’ve seen one gangster movie, you’ve seen them all. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lavish production with big named actors like the Godfather trilogy, a cheesy story about a crack dealer staring Ice T like New Jack City, or even Thelma and Louise. Each and every gangster movie basically ends the same way, in a blaze of glory. And just like every other gangster movie I was kind of hoping that the end of FIFA would be at least a little dramatic. Like maybe Sepp Blatter would hold a press conference at his home, pop out onto a gaudy balcony, yell out “SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!”, and start firing one of those tee-shirt cannons full of euros at all the collected media types.
But real life is boring. Despite being one of the biggest criminal gangs in the world, the fall of FIFA head Sepp Blatter didn’t end in a dramatic shootout. It ended with a resignation. It was the dramatic equivalent of Tony Montana throwing wet ladyfingers at his enemies.
For his next move Blatter will probably abscond to some country with no extradition treaty with the USA, like Russia, and spend the rest of his life in exile — wealthy, wealthy, exile. Вы говорите по-русски, Sepp? Well, you better learn!
And now that Sepp has stepped aside everyone in world football is dreaming big about what FIFA might become. Well, you might as well go ahead and stop dreaming now because despite Sepp Blatter stepping down I will bet you dollars to donuts that FIFA doesn’t change much. Because the problem with FIFA isn’t just Sepp Blatter and his criminal gang. The problem with FIFA is the entire structure.
There is a fantastic article on the Washington Post which details both how Sepp Blatter maintained his power and the complex global politics at the heart of FIFA. While everyone knew that FIFA was corrupt, while they had executives arrested, people pleading guilty, admissions of ticket stealing, and while Blatter kept making ridiculous pronouncements about race, gender, and sexuality, Sepp Blatter kept getting re-elected and my friends kept asking how.
The answer is simple, there are 209 nations in FIFA and every one gets just one vote. So, France has the same voting power as Trinidad and Tobago. That is how Blatter held on to power, by catering to small countries. He almost literally didn’t care what countries like England and the USA had to say about his governance. There were more than enough votes in the small countries, countries which can be controlled easily, for him to maintain power.
FIFA also governs player transfers. By the laws of game players are not actually allowed to say no to international call ups. If a player tried to refuse to play in Qatar or Russia on the moral grounds that they refuse to be party to homophobic, racist, human rights violations, the player can be banned from club play.
FIFA uses its power to compel big name players to play in special, one-off, tournaments. For example, the USA is set to host the 2016 “Centenario” of the Copa America. That’s right, Messi, Neymar, and Alexis Sanchez are going to be playing in a special Copa America in Seattle and other places in the USA, the first Copa America ever held outside of Latin America, on the centenary of the founding of the Copa America. Just one year after their previous Copa America which follows the World Cup. South American players won’t be getting a single moment’s rest for three years straight.
And while the world has been wringing their hands over World Cup bribery and wondering why Qatar gets a world cup when they have no history of soccer, have no soccer infrastructure, and have a history of horrible human rights violations the real corruption has been passing right before our very eyes. It’s all about sponsorship money: $1.6bn in sponsorship money.
The Department of Justice’s case against FIFA turned up $150m in bribes. And that’s just what they turned up here in North America. The indictment makes it clear, FIFA have operated like a mafia for over 20 years:
The indictment alleges that, between 1991 and the present, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the enterprise by engaging in various criminal activities, including fraud, bribery and money laundering. Two generations of soccer officials abused their positions of trust for personal gain, frequently through an alliance with unscrupulous sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks. All told, the soccer officials are charged with conspiring to solicit and receive well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for their official support of the sports marketing executives who agreed to make the unlawful payments.
Maybe it’s just CONCACAF and COMNEBOL where this money laundering, bribery, and fraud has been taking place? I doubt it. There was a revelation today that FIFA paid $5m to the FA of Ireland so that they would drop their lawsuit against France over the infamous Hand of Gaul. And we’ve already heard some rumors about the Qatar World Cup bid being tied to massive commercial giveaways. I suppose we will have to wait to see the results of those investigations.
But in the end, this is an astonishing level of corruption, more than most of us even thought. It is corruption spanning over 20 years, with a price tag of at least $150m, and involving a host of FIFA vice-presidents and multinational sports marketing corporations. It looks like systemic corruption in an organization which only adopted ethics rules in 2004.
So, sure, dream of changing FIFA. Maybe we can all wish that there will be fewer pointless International friendlies? Maybe we can all wish that the new head of FIFA limits the absurd menagerie of pre- and post- World Cup tournaments that players are forced to participate in? But with all the money at stake, with number of international tournaments on the rise, and with the players almost enslaved to FIFA’s governance of player transfers… I wouldn’t bet on it.