Spend enough time in the world of international soccer, and you hear rumors that FIFA – the sport’s ruling body – is one of the more corrupt organizations in power. Dig a little deeper, and those rumors turn into jokes between journalists. It’s an open secret that FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his cohort that rules the soccer universe don’t play things straight.
But open secrets and obvious corruption are two different animals. Thursday’s decision from FIFA to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively, reek of the latter. What’s worse is that FIFA had an opportunity to go straight – to repair its reputation – and instead members of its executive committee chose to laugh in the face of the world on the way to the bank.
Last month, the Sunday Times reported two of the Ex-Co’s 24 members said they would trade their votes for bribes. As a result, FIFA suspended the pair, but the incident was a black eye for the organization. It also provided an excellent opportunity to reform. As one commentator wrote, “This is Fifa’s Salt Lake City moment. If they do not act decisively now they will have no reputation left.”
What did FIFA do? Almost nothing. They gave lip service to their internal investigation, closed ranks, and refused to make the World Cup vote transparent. It’s still a secret process. That means that even if voting for the ’22 Cup was on the up and up, the public would have no way of knowing. And, of course, judging by the reaction on Twitter and around the media, no one in their right mind thinks Qatar won without some shady dealings. The tiny country – which does have some impressive-looking stadiums planned – shouldn’t have beaten out the US. It shouldn’t have beaten out Australia. It probably shouldn’t have beaten out Japan or Korea, either. Simply put, it shouldn’t be hosting a World Cup.
(Russia’s victory is another story; it’s probably not the best choice for ’18, but England shot itself in the foot and Spain/Portugal didn’t have the economic backing. Vladimir Putin’s country prevailing may have involved some, um, petro-dollars but they also have a legit case to host the tournament.)
FIFA had a chance to gain some credibility back with the world. Instead, soccer’s ruling organization chose to smear oil all over what little was left of its good name.