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Chris Ford: FIFA and its scandals

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Once upon a time corruption within sport was seldom heard of. Players and athletes went out onto sports fields and competed for the pure love of sport and the glory of representing their club or nation. Given the recent scandals within FIFA, international soccer's governing body, not any more.

I have written about the nexus between sport and politics as well as sport and money many times before. However, no other scandal has come close in bredth and depth than the FIFA corruption scandal which has claimed the scalps of a bunch of FIFA executives who all face corruption allegations. Most notably, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has decided to quit his post - and rightly so - after also being accused of corrupt practises himself.

The possible indictment of Blatter and some of his fellow current and former executives has led to a torrent of revelations about alleged bribery and corruption within the organisation. The most serious (which have been doing the rounds for some time) have concerned the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups which were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

My only hope is that Russia and Qatar are stripped of their hosting rights given the serious allegations that have been made and, in particular, the harsh treatment of migrant workers in Qatar employed on stadium-building projects.

It was also disgusting to read of other flagrant misuses of FIFA money including the making of a nearly $30 million film United Passions which merely serves as a fluff piece for the organisation. The film, starring New Zealander Sam Neill, was made at around the same time as the thousands of exploited migrant workers began work on constructing the stadiums in Qatar. Already, the film has been panned by critics and only grossed $900 at the US box office on its opening weekend about a fortnight ago which was, incidentally, when the scandal first broke.

Therefore, FIFA (which is currently running its Under 20 World Cup in New Zealand and its Women's World Cup in Canada) has spent money like there's been no tomorrow, either through corruption or gross mismanagement. I also agree with various commentators that FIFA needs a real democratic makeover given the fact that only two men - Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter - have served as president since 1974.

What FIFA also needs to do is to extricate itself from the tangle of too many corporate sponsorships. It's been really sad to see sport become so reliant on corporate money at all levels from the Olympic Games to rugby, cricket, and of course soccer. In fact, soccer was the first sport to adopt a corporate ethos as far back as the 1920s and 1930s when professional football began in the United Kingdom. Given this historical fact, it's no surprise that soccer has become deeply enmeshed in a corruption scandal which will take years to shake off.

Above all, I feel really sorry for the ordinary soccer players (both amateur and professional), coaches, managers, and officials who have been let down by FIFA's actions. Many millions of ordinary soccer players, fans and volunteers around the world are dismayed and have no doubt been let down by an organisation that all of them either directly or indirectly contribute to financially. They deserve better than this and I hope that FIFA might even consider repaying national organisations some money in recognition of that which has been misspent so that it can be returned to grassroots soccer around the world. I can only think, for example, of the number of poorer young people in Third World nations and even the poorest communities of the developed world who may have missed out on development programmes that could have seen the new stars of tomorrow come through, all because FIFA demanded more and more from their national members coffers for its vainglorious projects.

FIFA as an organisation needs to clean up its house and get itself back into order. The survival of soccer as a viable game, in fact, depends on it.







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