What a tangled web Fifa weaves
The involvement in has its roots in the early 1970s, when a new European elite started to rule the world of soccer
Imagine this: Citing the discovery of an intricate and longstanding web of state-private sector corruption, the National Prosecuting Authority orders the police to raid a meeting of the executive branch of government. Several high-ranking politicians are arrested on corruption charges and related warrants of arrest are simultaneously issued for a range of lower-ranking politicians and government officials as well as a number of senior corporate executives.
Protestations of innocence and charges of factional and politicised power plays predictably follow. The president claims he knows nothing about anything and, even though he subsequently receives the backing of the Cabinet and his party, he soon thereafter announces his resignation for the good of the nation.
Even if the above scenario is about as likely to occur as it is likely to snow in Durban (although, like John Lennon said, we can always imagine), this is more or less what has just happened to the global governing powerhouse of soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa).
The events at Fifa, which have been widely covered in both domestic and international media, are akin to a major earthquake for world soccer. However, the pre-quake tremors have been rumbling for decades. For us to locate and understand what is happening now and assess the immediate and longer-term impact of these seismic events, we must look at how we got to this point.
From its early days as an organised collective of largely European nations presiding over an amateur game, Fifa had by the 1970s become a corporate, money-making behemoth encompassing the globe.
This transformation paralleled soccer’s integration into the global development of capitalism itself with multinational corporate capital “associating with and increasingly impinging on major sports in search of profits and image enhancement”.
The symbiotic relationship was cemented at Fifa’s 1974 congress. Horst Dassler, CEO of sports corporation Adidas, ensured the election of dictator-loving Brazilian João Havelange as Fifa president by lavishing monetary support on targeted delegates (mostly from Africa, Asia and Latin America).
In quick time, Dassler’s new sports-marketing corporation, International Sports and Leisure, was granted exclusive marketing rights for the World Cup and, soon, a whole host of corporates, including newly privatised media outfits, joined the Fifa party.
Fifa then changed its constitution, ensuring all meaningful decisions on competitions and commercial rights would be controlled by a new soccer elite ensconced at Fifa’s headquarters as well as its affiliated continental confederations and national associations. At the apex was Fifa’s executive committee,
Source: The Guardian answerable to no one but themselves – and their corporate sponsors. By the 1990s, Fifa had become an all-powerful supranational characterised by a web of endemic corruption.
Enter Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. As Fifa’s general secretary, he was closely associated with Havelange and International Sports and Leisure. Blatter contested the presidency at Fifa’s 1998 congress against another European, reform candidate Lennart Johansson. Despite all indications of a Johansson victory, it was Blatter who was victorious.
It took more than a decade for some of the truth surrounding Blatter’s victory to be revealed. Then Somalian football association president Farah Addo admitted in an interview with Britain’s Daily Mail that although the Confederation of African Football had committed all its votes to Johansson, money had been offered – and accepted – to switch votes. According to Addo, “the night before the election … people were lining up to receive money. Some told me they got $5 000 before the vote and the same the next day after Blatter won.”
Blatter’s cash-filled election ensured that the status quo remained. For 17 years, he has shuttered up the transparency
Graphics24 blinds, deflecting myriad allegations and exposés of World Cup bribery and the corrupt dealings of numerous Fifa officials.
Even hard evidence given in a Swiss court in 2008 that International Sports and Leisure had paid more than $100 million in bribes to unnamed officials of global sports federations – including Fifa – was brushed aside. Throughout, Blatter and his Fifa minions were supported and actively courted by sovereign national states, their elected representatives and leaders.
Now that the festering rot of Fifa’s world has been partially exposed to the same global constituency it has for so long taken for a ride, the opportunity exists to finally clean up and heal the world’s most popular sport. Those who are culpable – whatever position they hold and wherever they are from – must be held accountable and punished accordingly. While law enforcement agencies in the US are presently the main investigators and pursuers, all relevant international bodies as well as national governments will need to actively join the cleanup effort.
If geopolitical point scoring and national chauvinism are allowed to dominate, whether emanating from large or smaller nations, the chances that either Fifa or the game of soccer will be able to move forward are slim. Similarly, a mere shifting of the existing leadership deck chairs is not going to cut it.
The opportunity that is now presented should not be sacrificed on the predictable altar of “change the make-up, keep the system”.
Indeed, the history of Fifa shows us the current crisis of soccer is a global, structural one. Yes, Blatter, other senior Fifa and affiliated officials and those in the associated corporate world have much to answer for as individuals. But it is the entire organisational and developmental model of soccer that Fifa originated and has presided over for decades that needs to change.
The people of the global South have nothing to fear and everything to gain from such a change. After all, they are not only the dominant audience of and participants in the world of soccer; their national organisations form the majority of Fifa’s membership. By becoming involved in a struggle for the democratic reclamation of Fifa as well as national federations, the opportunities for a more equitable and just soccer order will be greatly enhanced.
Fifa is in this mess because the few who have run it turned their backs on the many who actually make up the game itself – the many millions of people who play the game and the billions who are fans.
Just as genuine democracy demands that governments and those who lead them are transparent and accountable, so too does it demand the same of what is, after all, the people’s game.
McKinley is an independent writer, researcher, lecturer and activist
Blatter resigns, ending a 17-year tenure dogged by corruption scandals. Earlier in the day, Fifa’s secretary-general, Jérôme Valcke, comes under pressure after evidence emerges that he was aware of a $10 million alleged bribe payment from South African officials to then Concacaf president Jack Warner
Seven Fifa officials are arrested by Swiss police after a request from US authorities. They are alleged to have been involved in a corruption scandal totalling more than $150 million. Hours after the arrests, Swiss prosecutors open a criminal investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids
Garcia complains that his investigation into the 2018 and 2022 bidding process was misrepresented in a summary version published by HansJoachim Eckert, the chair of Fifa’s ethics committee. Fifa says the matter is closed