Soccer, or football, is the most popular sport in the world. Accordingly, FIFA, its governing body, is regularly ranked among the most powerful organizations in the world. So it may come as a surprise the sheer level of corruption and incompetence practiced by FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election this year.
Blatter ascended to the presidency in 1998 and has been embroiled in controversy ever since, along with the rest of FIFA. From the frivolous to the fatal, Blatter has been implicated in an astonishing range of screw-ups.
Most serious perhaps was his decision to hand the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, where it is projected that thousands of migrant workers will die building FIFA’s stadiums. Despite the fact that Qatar’s summers (which can reach 40 degrees Celsius) are far too warm for soccer, and hosting the Cup in winter would mess up club soccer schedules across the world, FIFA has inexplicably awarded Qatar the world’s most-watched sporting tournament. Inexplicably, that is, if you discount the ever-present allegations that Qatar bribed Blatter for the World Cup.
Indeed, corruption seems to be a common theme throughout Blatter’s career. Blatter’s own former deputy and protege, Michel Zen-Rufinnen, wrote a 30-page document alleging that the collapse of one of FIFA’s partners, ISL, had cost FIFA over $100 million. The collapse was supposedly caused by ISL paying huge sums to FIFA officials in exchange for television contracts. In April 2012, the Council of Europe implicated Blatter in this scandal, saying that it would be “difficult to imagine” that Blatter had not been aware of ISL’s payments and subsequent bankruptcy.
Even when corruption and financial incompetence is not the main issue, Blatter has still made a variety of controversial statements. On racism in soccer: “There is no racism.” On soccer star John Terry’s allege d extramarital affair: “If this had happened in let’s say Latin countries then I think he would have been applauded.” On women’s soccer: “Wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts.” On Qatar’s anti-gay policies: “I would say they (gay fans) should refrain from any sexual activities.” The list goes on.
It is clear that Blatter’s reign has turned FIFA, and himself, into a laughingstock. The FIFA presidential elections happening this year is the best opportunity to change that. Blatter is running for re-election (despite promising back in 2011 that he wouldn’t); three other candidates are also in the running. They are legendary ex-soccer player Luis Figo, Dutchman Michael van Praag, and Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein.
Each of the three candidates offer a fresh start for FIFA. None of them have a history of corruption or ineptitude, and each has promised reform and transparency. However, while van Praag and Al-Hussein seem focused on change off the field, Figo has radical ideas for how soccer itself is played.
Among Figo’s proposals include expanding the World Cup to include 40 or even 48 countries, reverting to the old offside rule, and implementing “sin bins” (similar to hockey’s penalty boxes). However, each of these proposals are problematic. A 40 or 48 country tournament, with games every 3 days, in a country as warm as Qatar would be very taxing for players. In fact, on Figo’s part, including more countries in the World Cup seems like a blatant effort to win votes from smaller nations. Sin bins and offside rules could also significantly slow the pace of the game and are largely seen as unnecessary.
On the contrary, both van Praag and Al-Hussein are seasoned soccer officials who have impressive, and more importantly, clean track records. However, the fact that both candidates are in the running is likely to split the anti-Blatter vote. Furthermore, it looks as if most of the national soccer organizations are already in Blatter’s pocket – neither van Praag nor Al-Hussein seem to have enough clout to turn the race in their favour. In conclusion, while most independent observers can agree than Blatter needs to go, it seems like that will never happen.
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