The 2022 FIFA World Cup is slowly exiting the group stage and entering into the Round of 16! There, the best two teams from each group will enter into the single elimination bracket to determine which team from around the world is best. But this World Cup has had a lot of heads turned and voices either raised or silenced due to the massive amounts of controversy which surround it. From human rights violations to outright abuses and from bribery to downright trickery, Qatar has exposed and amplified the gaping wound that exists within the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
To understand why FIFA is predisposed to such massive scandals with what seems to be little to no repercussions, it must first be dissected as an organization to understand where the power is held.
FIFA, seeing as it controls all of world soccer, has a number of standing committees which each have their own powers and responsibilities. For instance, one coordinates the referees for the games and ensures that there is equal training among all refs so that there is a quantifiable standard among them. But committees such as the referee committee all report to two bodies within FIFA which hold all of the power: the FIFA Council (formerly the Executive Committee) and the FIFA Congress.
Now this is where things become a little more complicated within FIFA’s hierarchy. The FIFA Congress has 211 members currently, which represent each nation that is within FIFA. Those nations all have national soccer associations which elect one representative to be a part of the FIFA Congress and vote on FIFA issues. However, with such a large number of nations in the congress, FIFA also created the FIFA Council (formerly the Executive Committee). The FIFA Council is comprised of 37 members, of which one is the president of FIFA (currently the Italian former president of EUFA Gianni Infantino), with eight vice-presidents and 28 members which represent each continent’s soccer federation. One step down from FIFA, which is the global soccer governing body, are the continental federations which each have their own designations such as the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), which is the North American soccer federation, or the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which is the European soccer federation.
These bodies have historically had the most power within FIFA as they have passed back and forth which body has had the ability to choose the host country of the world’s biggest sporting tournament: the World Cup.
So where does corruption fit into this picture? How could the governing body of soccer, or any sport for that matter, truly be that corrupt? And how is it that they have had control over some of the most important countries in the world when their power only rests on the pitch?
This is where bribery comes into the fold. As of recently it has been within the power of the FIFA Council to determine which country will host the World Cup. This process is done by a vote made by the members of the FIFA Council (not the president or the vice presidents) and only a simple majority of 15 votes is required for a nation to win hosting rights. This has led nations to do sketchy and in some cases illegal things to win over members of the FIFA Council. This was overwhelmingly obvious in 2010 when then FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced that not one World Cup host but two would be chosen at once. Traditionally, FIFA had chosen the host of the World Cup eight years prior to the event but in 2010 they shifted gears to choose two.
The 2018 World Cup was going to be given to a European nation and the 2022 World Cup would be outside of Europe. While both contests had roughly five bids to host, the main two in each competition were the United Kingdom and Russia for the 2018 bid and the United States and Qatar for the 2022 bid. All four nations poured millions of dollars into campaigns to prove to FIFA that their World Cup would be the best, flaunting infrastructure, hotels and marketing deals. It was clear to those watching the debates that the two bids who were the best prepared for the World Cup and would offer the best tournament would be the United Kingdom and the United States.
But as history has recorded, that was not the case. The voting ended with Russia and Qatar winning the bids for their respective World Cup dates. But how could nations with little to no infrastructure for these games ever win those bids? The answer to that question is under the table.
Bribes played an important role in the selection of Russia and Qatar. It was revealed that the Russian and Qatari delegations to FIFA had bribed members of the FIFA Council to buy their votes. In sums in the millions of dollars to members of the FIFA Council, it was no small sum being wired to these executives but rather large sums of money to ensure their victory over the other bids. Nations such as Qatar and Russia which currently are run by authoritarian regimes do not hold the same accountability to the financial system as democratic regimes do.
While the United Kingdom and United States used taxpayer dollars to support their bids, every dime had to be accounted for in those campaigns to be transparent and clear to the public how their funds were being used. But in the cases of Qatar and Russia where wealthy oligarchs are directly connected to the government and control the financial sector of their nations there is no need for accountability. Money can be used as bribes under their system because the government is not only in bed with those who have money but is also in favor of how they are spending it. Therefore, FIFA can be played like a fiddle and votes can be bought because for the Switzerland-based organization no one is looking over them due to Swiss banking protection laws and the international nature of the organization.
FIFA chose in 2010 to have two World Cup hosts selected to allow for the members of the FIFA Council to rake in more bribes due to the fact that they were unsure if they would be in that position in four years. FIFA not only deals with authroitirian regimes in private conversations away from their players and staff but has been in bed with them for years.
The World Cup is one of the most watched events in sports throughout the world and is also one of the most lucrative. For nations such as Russia and Qatar, the ability to host such a tournament is a massive step in nation building and proves to the world that they are “big players.” None of this deals directly with soccer at all. Qatar has never qualified for a World Cup prior to 2022 and Russia has only qualified for four in its history with its best result coming in 1966 when it was still the Soviet Union. But the money to be made and the patriotism which can be amplified due to the World Cup simply being hosted within a nation is immeasurable.
To nations such as Russia and Qatar, that opportunity is worth more than any amount of bribes needed to win a World Cup bid from FIFA.
So now FIFA finds itself in one of the hardest positions for any organization to be in—a relationship with authoritarians. FIFA’s choices to let Russia and Qatar host the World Cup has led to a number of human rights violations. Most recently has been Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and Qatar’s limiting of women’s rights and inhumane treatment of migrant workers. It is estimated that for the 2022 World Cup to properly function with infrastructure to support it, that did not exist at the time of the bid in 2010, roughly 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar.
The blood of those workers covers the hands of the FIFA Council members who voted for them to host the World Cup.
In an effort to curb such widespread fraud in FIFA the FIFA Congress now has been given the power to vote on World Cup hosts which should hopefully decrease the chances of bribes with so many more votes being needed. But the road to recovery and more importantly change is a long one for FIFA. They are an organization with little to no oversight from any government, they control world soccer without input from the players they are directly impacting and they need to draw a harsh line between promoting the beautiful game in underrepresented nations of the world and becoming a bank for authoritarian regimes to pour money into.
FIFA has been issued a red card by the world and until changes occur, the beautiful game, which players and fans alike idolize and love, will continue to be a Ponzi scheme by those who run it out of their own self interest.