At the end of May, FIFA Delegates gathered in Zurich for the their annual congress. However, the party was crashed when dawn raids by police led to seven FIFA executives being arrested in their hotels. The seven have since been charged with corruption by US prosecutors. These high profile arrests meant that the mainstream media, politicians and governments could no longer turn a blind eye to the extortion racket that governs world football.
For many years, FIFA has been an obscene enrichment scheme for the blazers and suits of world football. Cash, gifts and holidays were regularly exchanged for votes and favours. Over those years, investigative journalists such as Andrew Jennings, publications like Private Eye and television programmes such as Panorama have attempted to expose the endemic corruption at large in FIFA. They have pursued targets such as Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer. The recent events have brought the allegations within touching distance of FIFA President, Sepp Blatter. Many expect it to be only a matter of time before he is helping the police with their enquiries. Since the arrests, Blatter has been reluctant to leave the relative safety of Switzerland, failing to attend the Women’s World Cup in Canada for “personal reasons”, but more likely due to fears of being extradited to the US. Eventually, under pressure he has agreed to step down as President, although this will not take effect for at least six months until a new successor is elected.
Several decades ago, the universal popularity of football meant that it was ripe for commercial exploitation by capitalism. This commercialisation has grown exponentially, as some of the world’s largest corporations have paid handsomely to have their name associated with the sport. The purchase of high profile football clubs and the accompanying sponsorship by big business, has allowed corporations to use football to push their products to new markets around the globe. A sport that is enjoyed by many millions around the world has been transformed into a commodity for extracting profit. The World Cup has become the pinnacle of this strategy. FIFA’S
sponsors include household names such as Coca Cola, Budweiser, Visa and McDonalds.
The bidding process to host the World Cup sees states fight tooth and nail for the international prestige of hosting the competition. Over the years, the desperation to be selected has led to bidders attempting to buy the votes of FIFA delegates. Cash, gifts, holidays and other favours were showered on delegates in an effort to win their vote.
While this has been tolerated for decades, the selection of the desert kingdom of Qatar to host the 2022 world cup in the height of summer pushed credibility to breaking point. The temperature range at that time of year is between 30 and 50 degrees C. It seems as if FIFA are prepared to put players health at risk by expecting them to play competitive games at that temperature. The promise of air-conditioned stadia failed to appease the critics. At the same time, over a thousand migrant labourers have already been killed building the stadia. Thousands of others have their rights taken from them by Qatar’s Kafala system that ties migrant workers to the employer.
In the wake of the English FA’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2018 tournament, it was the English FA’s Lord Triesman who tabled allegations of bribery against the Qatari bid. Ironically the subsequent enquiry was critical of England’s bid amongst others. It criticised England of trying to court the FIFA Vice President Jack Warner in effort to get him to persuade others to vote for the English bid. This included sponsoring a gala dinner in Warner’s Trinidad and Tobago and organising an England friendly against the island’s football team. The English bid team also provided Mulberry handbags to the partners of FIFA executives. While the scale of these inducements is small time compared with some of the allegations against other bidders, nevertheless it shows that the English bid was not as clean as the media and football officials try to make out. Their hubris and chauvinism is a match for no one.
Although Blatter’s time in power looks to be coming to an end, in the short term the commercial interests of the World Cup will continue to take precedence over the wishes of fans, players and host countries. Like all cultural pursuits, we must fight to rid sport of capitalism’s contamination.