Global football governing body FIFA are facing an unprecedented scandal on the eve of its annual congress, after up to 14 high ranking officials were indicted amidst allegations of widespread corruption. Amongst those arrested was current vice president, Jeffery Webb as well as his predecessor Jack Warner. This follows dawn raids at a Zurich hotel, were FIFA delegates were staying ahead of the organisations election process this coming weekend.
The arrests stem from a three year investigation conducted by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) into alleged corruption within FIFA during the last 20 years. Top FIFA officials have been accused of receiving millions of dollars in bribes, including from the South African government in relation to the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. Whilst the raids were conducted in collaboration with Swiss police, Switzerland’s own authorities have also launched an independent investigation into the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, due to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively.
FIFA has long been dogged by claims of corruption within its highest echelons, with critics within the football fraternity long lambasting the organisations ‘dictatorial’ running of the sport. Its handling of the World Cup in particular has raised the ire of many, with suggestions that FIFA often put high financial demands on potential and selected hosts, whilst reaping most of the commercial reward of the event
US journalist, Andrew Jerrell Jones said the current situation was comedic for those that had been highly critical and suspicious of FIFA for some time, with the organisation largely living with impunity. According to Jones, the football authority had somehow managed to avoid slipping and revealing its corruption publicly, despite numerous media reports and a widespread belief amongst football fans as to their unscrupulousness.
“This is something that is not just a routine look into FIFA’s bribery, but something that is really massive right now. They have a lot of damage control to do,” he suggested.
The raids have brought about question as to how US authorities were able to act on a global organisation, whose foundations are firmly rooted in Switzerland. But as per US law, the DoJ may act on international issues where there is some form of American connection. According to Jones, the DoJ’s own report suggested a link between a U.S bank and ‘a Swiss source’. With the two country’s sharing an alliance and extradition policies, this allowed the investigation and subsequent arrests to come to fruition.
FIFA has long face criticism over its process in the awarding, and preparations for the World Cup tournament, held on a four year basis. Apart from claims of bribery in awarding the tournament to South Africa, Qatar, and Russia (question marks also date back to the 2002 edition in South Korea/Japan), FIFA has ruffled feathers over its almost dictatorial demands on host nations. Country’s like SA, and more recently Brazil ran up huge financial losses after having to embark of substantial upgrades to stadia, as well as other tourist facilities.
Jones highlighted that in both countries, there were now stadiums either sitting empty, or completely out of commission.
“It’s just the whole arrogance that FIFA brings to the local avenues that has alienated much of the public. It is also alienating a lot of the players as well. You have Cristiano Ronaldo…he can’t stand Sepp Blatter and he is probably chuckling a little bit at the idea of seeing this,” he suggested.
In a bid to improve its standing amongst the general footballing public, FIFA in 2014 commission a film based on the organisation’s history, and the ‘heroic’ roles played by Blatter and other notable senior figures. The Hollywood style film, titled United Passions, was however critically panned. The movie was also reportedly funded almost entirely by the governing body itself.
“It would be better if he (Blatter) does a sequel right now about the corruption and what’s going to go down, because that’s the only way the public are going to want to see a movie from FIFA,” stated Jones.
“People are now in tune to seeing how dreadful this governing body is, and how they do things. Literally between them and the International Olympic Committee, they battle for the most despicable sport’s governing body around.”
Qatar, the 2022 hosts, has been accused of human rights abuses for the manner in which migrant workers, including those working on stadia construction, have been treated. The gulf state has witnessed 964 deaths of migrants from Nepal, India and Bangladesh in 2012 and 2013 alone. Many suggest the awarding of the event may have been down to the country’s financial muscle, and not the viability of hosting in a country with little footballing history, and where temperatures can average around 38 °C to 45 °C.
FIFA will open its annual Congress on Friday, where Sepp Blatter is still widely tipped to secure his fifth 4-year term as president, ahead of Jordanian candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)