The soccer scandal which unfolded last month, exposing numerous offi cials of The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) deeply shook sports fans across nations. The corruption scandal has led to calls for sponsors to drop their support of soccer and to send a message about ethics, writes Monojit Lahiri
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely!” The Guru who offered these wise words may well have had FIFA in mind, because today, the most-watched sporting event on planet earth – even larger than the celebrated Olympics – played in over 200 countries, 67 of which it is their number one sport, generating zillions in revenue from corporate sponsors, broadcasting rights and merchandising is in the eye of a raging storm. Rampant, systemic and deep-rooted corruption has been detected with 7 FIFA top executives arrested in the early hours of May 27, 2015 by the Swiss police when they raided a luxury hotel in Zurich. In all, 14 current and former FIFA officials & associates, the statement continues, have been charged with conduct & ethical practices, way out-of-line. In fact, reports add that instances of corruption, poor labour practices & suspicious wheeling-dealing have plagued the body leading to a situation when even their most loyal sponsors & backers have been forced to pull back, see the big – horrific – picture, re-assess & re-evaluate [even end] their ongoing love-affair with this increasingly toxic brand called FIFA!
These seven were held at the behest of the US Department of Justice, which has indicted a total of 14 But to begin at the beginning – why is FIFA so corruption & scandal-prone with shady dealings, kickbacks and lack of transparency leading the way? Offers a sharp & knowledgeable insider, “You see FIFA isn’t a business, nor is it an international organisation – like WHO – and again neither is it governmental. It falls into a netherworld of governance. Its basically like a Members Club that suddenly rocketed into the big time. In fact its gotten to the point where, in terms of sheer scale, it has the characteristics of a governmental organisational or really big business edifice and is grabbing our attention, largely because of the monster-bucks it attracts.” The main corruption, he believes, centres around World Cup Site Selection, simply because of their mindnumbingly massive money involved … and where there is big moolah, greed, manipulation, setting-fitting comes with the territory!
This territory, however, is clearly off-limits and off the radar of their hi-profile, respected, globally recognised multi-national corporate sponsors who have loyally & passionately supported this major global event, all along. When big-ticket brands like Adidas, Hyundai-Kia, McDonalds, Budweiser, Coca-Cola & Visa signed up, they were all charged up for good reasons – partnering a mega brand called FIFA, buying into the spirit of sporting excellence by putting their money where their mouth was, most importantly, beaming into a zillion homes across the global with their products. Never in their wildest dreams did they ever imagine – or expect – a whiff of scandal. Now, having spent huge fortunes, they are horrified to find their much-loved and protected brand-names & products suddenly linked to a shamed & tarnished brand called FIFA! In a flash, they have reacted. From warnings to vociferous threats, the group of sponsors have turned on the heat with Visa leading the way, with all guns firing. Visa has made it clear that “unless FIFA’s governing body makes appropriate changes NOW, we will re-assess our sponsorship.” Incidentally, for the last four years of the last “World Cup Cycle” [2011-2014] FIFA’s top global partners doled out, a reported $177 million! The first body-blow has arrived. Tier One sponsor Sony decided NOT to renew their contract of last year. It has been a loyal FIFA partner since 2007, after signing a contract in 2005 worth $38 million. Reliable sources indicate that Johnson & Johnson, Castrol, Continental and Emirates echo similar feellings. Will this mark the beginning of the end for FIFA or will it work as a wake-up call for them and force them to get their house in order or … will this corruption continue with the powers-that-are having a ball? Fair play, good governance, transparency, ethics, respecting goodwill and brand equity – are they too much to ask? Expanding the theme, will this shame n’ scandal, impact the progress and development of the game in Asia – in India, where the World Sub-junior, Under-17 World Cup is scheduled to kick-off in 2017?
As expected, polarised views emerged from centre-field. A very high official – who wished to remain anonymous – connected with the football establishment in India, was first off the block. As expected, he was suitably circumspect and played down the FIFA scandal. “Lets put the entire issue in perspective. Of course what happened with FIFA was terrible and should never have & the corruption, bribery etc. was way out-of-line, but the reason was essentially sloppy, direction-less & unfocussed governance. Also, the intrinsic flaw lies in the structure. While the President is elected every 3 years, the team from the confederation – different countries – come on board haphazardly and stay forever! The problem lies also with the sideys – associates & officials – who, mostly, are responsible for all this mess. The main-core group comprising the President and his chosen team are legit and the FIFA funds are clean. This snafu should serve as a wake-up call to Sepp Blatter [who has officially resigned but instructed to stay on till the next elections] and his team to immediately get into damage – control mode & sort things out. It is basically a lack of governance problem. Regarding the exit of sponsors, rest assured once the dust settles, tonnes of other sponsors will rush in with fatter cheques. Hasn’t this happened with other sporting events, the recent IPL being the latest example? The media, as usual, has gone overboard and sensationalised it beyond proportion.” Regarding the Asian spin-off, he remains supremely confident that it will not hamper proceedings one bit. “I was recently abroad in a meeting convened by them and everything – funds, infrastructure, whatever – was in place. India’s Under 17 World Cup is on track and promises to really take the spot to another level. Blatter has been a great one to promote football to smaller, nonplaying nations and his intent has to be appreciated. He walked the talk by awarding India the Under 17 World Cup in 2017, didn’t he? My point is: let’s not get carried away. In an age and time when big bucks tourneys carry attendant problems, the positives – rather than the negatives – need to be seen, noted & celebrated.” Respected veteran sports commentator Novy Kapadia summarily dismisses all these arguments with his well-argued tirade. “Let’s not play footsy and cut to the chase. FIFA has always been a dicey proposition Blatter and his team have always catered to vested interests. Also FIFA is a huge property dealing with big bucks and brand equity and providing the awardee nations opportunities – along with promoting the sport – to mint money. No wonder politicians, government officials, ministers even Presidents [directly or indirectly] are known to participate in this mega-musical chairs. As for Blatter’s touching concern for smaller, non-footballdriven nations, what can I say? Here was a guy who, from the day he was elected President, never took a commercial flight – only his special chartered Jet! Here was a guy freely dispersing development money to their 29 football associations around the world – many of which are poor countries – for football purposes, with minimum follow-up and accountability. Familiar? Vote Bank Politics, Indian style? Buying Patronage through the age-old give-with-one-hand – take-withthe- other, syndrome?” Regarding the Asia angle – specifically India – Kapadia believes that there’s no immediate fear because it’s a done deal. The Under 17 World Cup will happen and in all likelihood go smoothly but thereafter its all uncertain. “Post-Blatter, if the new President and committee believe in solid governance & structure, total transparency, accountability, focus & meritocracy with no politics, favouritism or vested interest creeping in, then countries like India – which features nowhere among legit football playing nations – could take a hit. Let’s wait and watch.” While all that Kapadia says does indeed hold water, is one to believe that the Indian Football Crorepati Clubs & foreign coaches coming in, ISL and the crazed following of internationally renowned red-hot players & teams by Indian fans tantamount to nothing? The last words must come from Larsing Ming, owner of Shillong Lajong & North East United. “One can only hope that – as always – the spirit of the sport wins, FIFA gets its house in order and Asian football – like Cricket & Tennis – kicks in to take India Football into the world arena …
FIFA CORRUPTION SCANDAL TIMELINE
The scandal hasn’t run its course yet but here’s the story so far. WCRC Leaders Asia looks back at the history of deception in FIFA, the World football’s governing body that has been dogged by allegations of corruption
A turbulent period for FIFA began in May 2010 when the world’s governing body for soccer was presented with offi cials bid documents by Australia, England, Netherlands, Japan, Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. During the ceremony at its Swiss headquarters, FIFA announced dates for the inspection in the months July- September for bidding nations.
In a ceremony in Zurich, FIFA announce to general surprise that Qatar has won the right to stage the 22nd World Cup, taking 14 of 22 votes in the fourth round.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in the Qatari capital Doha ahead of the Asian Cup, said that he expects the tournament “will be held in winter”.
Allegations of corruption continue to blight the bidding process for both the 2022 and 2018 tournaments. A whistleblower, who is later revealed to be Phaedra Almajid, formerly part of the Qatari bid, claims that money was paid to FIFA’s executive committee in order to buy votes.
Almajid retracts her claims of corruption and insists that she wanted to exact revenge after losing her campaign job.
Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary general of the Qatar 2022 supreme committee, insists staging the tournament in summer is feasible. A huge investment in infrastructure will create super-cooled stadia to protect fans and players against the heat.
Uefa’s 54 member associations back plans to move the tournament from its traditional June and July slot.
Amnesty International uncover alleged “human rights abuses” on World Cup construction projects, releasing a report that details “an alarming level of exploitation”.
FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke says in a radio interview that the World Cup will not take place in June-July, but the world governing body insists that a decision is yet to be made.
Pressure grows on FIFA at the Brazil World Cup to order a new vote on the 2022 tournament as a probe gets under way headed by US lawyer Michael J. Garcia, but Blatter vows to fi ght critics trying to “destroy” FIFA.
Michael Garcia completes his 430-page report in to corruption allegations and sends it to FIFA
FIFA’s top judge says that it cannot release Garcia’s fi nal report of the vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in full for legal reasons with Garcia later complaining that a summary of his report misrepresented his conclusions.
FIFA lodges a criminal complaint with the Swiss attorney general over “possible misconduct” by individuals in connection with the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
A FIFA World Cup task force recommends the 2022 World Cup in Qatar be held in winter, probably in November-December, to avoid the scorching summer temperatures in the Gulf state.
Top FIFA offi cials are taken into custody in Zurich for alleged racketeering, conspiracy and corruption over two decades while Swiss authorities raid the FIFA headquarters looking for evidence linked to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. FIFA say the upcoming presidential elections will go ahead in two days.
The US attorney general charges that FIFA offi cials took millions of dollars cash in return for helping to win the vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.
Despite the widereaching corruption scandal that has claimed several of Sepp Blatter’s deputies, Blatter defeats Prince Ali bin Al Hussein to retain his presidency for a fi fth term.
Reports claim that FIFA’s second most powerful offi cial, Jérôme Valcke, knew about the South Africa payment to disgraced former Concacaf chief Jack Warner. FIFA denies that was the case, but at a hastilyarranged news conference its chief Sepp Blatter announces he is about to resign. As corruption investigations continue, FIFA announces that it will suspend the voting process for the 2026 World Cup
Chuck Blazer, a key fi gure in a U.S. investigation into soccer corruption, was banned for life from the sport by its governing body, FIFA