THROW FIFA OUT OF THE GAME
Dave Zirin / The New York Times
Most people associate FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, with the quadrennial joy of the World Cup. But as the 2014 tournament begins next week in Brazil, FIFA is plagued by levels of corruption, graft and excess that would shame Silvio Berlusconi.
Despite the palatial estates, private planes and pompous airs of FIFA’s current leaders, the organization actually has quite humble origins.
FIFA was founded in 1904 in Paris as a simple rule-making committee that aimed to regulate the guidelines for a new, rapidly expanding sport when played between nations. Because it was founded in Paris, the organization took its acronym, FIFA, from the French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association. What began as an effort to make sure that practices like punching one’s opponents would not be seen as a legitimate part of the game, morphed over time into one of the most successful and disreputable organizations in the history of sports.
Under the iron-fisted leadership of Sepp Blatter, FIFA has been steeped in rotating scandals for so long, it’s difficult even to imagine its not being immersed in one public relations crisis or another. Mr. Blatter succeeded his mentor, the similarly scandal-plagued João Havelange in 1998. Under his stewardship, FIFA officials have been accused of financial mismanagement, taking bribes and projecting a level of sexism and homophobia that seems to come from another century.
FIFA’s corruption has been such an open secret for so many years that when new reports emerge, they tend to provoke more eye-rolls than outrage.
FIFA is supposed to police match-fixing, yet a New York Times investigation revealed that only six people on its staff of 350 are responsible for that enforcement. It is supposed to monitor corruption, but it’s not clear it does. There have long been allegations that bribes secured the 2022 World Cup for Qatar.
The head of FIFA’s own independent governance committee (which was recently disbanded) suggested holding a new vote for the right to host the 2022 World Cup. And the European football federation’s representatives to FIFA have threatened to protest against Mr. Blatter when he declares his intention this week to seek yet another term as FIFA’s head.
It’s easy to be cynical about all of this, but cynicism is a luxury we can no longer afford. Anyone paying attention to the myriad injustices emerging in the international soccer of the 21st century can see that the stakes are a great deal higher than whether a few palms are greased.
In Brazil, site of the 2014 World Cup, the FIFA-driven push to build new stadiums at a breakneck pace has led to the deaths of nine construction workers. FIFA’s demands for security and infrastructure may end up displacing as many as 250,000 poor people, who live in the favelas surrounding Brazil’s urban centers. The cost of the games continues to tick upward, the latest figures climbing as high as $15 billion. Brazil’s own 1994 World Cup star, Romário, called the 2014 tournament “the biggest heist in the history of Brazil.”
The situation is even worse in Qatar, site of the 2022 World Cup. Hundreds of migrant workers have already died in the oil kingdom’s efforts to build new “FIFA-quality stadiums.” This, along with recently emerging bribery allegations, has led some high-level FIFA officials to talk openly about moving the event to a new locale. Even Mr. Blatter now says that giving the cup to Qatar “was a mistake.”
“There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world.”
Yet, for the first time, this secret kingdom is being dragged from the shadows. In Brazil, striking teachers, security guards, firefighters and bus drivers are demanding “FIFA-quality wages.” Housing activists are occupying land and asking for “FIFA-quality homes” while nurses call for “FIFA-quality hospitals.” Wherever FIFA shows up, as the World Cup approaches, protesters dog its every step. As a friend in São Paulo told me, “FIFA is about as popular in Brazil as FEMA was after Hurricane Katrina.”
Finally, the world is seeing FIFA for what it is: a stateless conglomerate that takes bribes while acting as a battering ram for world leaders who want to use the majesty of the World Cup to push through their development agendas at great human cost.
People don’t have to be displaced and workers don’t need to die for soccer. The World Cup can be staged in countries with existing stadiums and infrastructure. Moreover, the secret bidding process for host countries must end so that soccer isn’t abused for economic and political ends.
International soccer desperately needs two entirely distinct bodies. One would be in charge of monitoring and actually stopping corruption, bribery and match-fixing.
The other could be in charge, in the words of Mr. Blatter’s predecessor, Mr. Havelange, of selling “a product called football.” The fact that one governing body is currently in charge of both the cash register and making sure no one is robbing the store is a recipe for graft. It is also a recipe for international soccer’s eventually collapsing under the weight of its own problems with corruption.
Yes, soccer is still unquestionably the most popular sport on the planet. But a cloistered, corrupt society like FIFA cannot function in a WikiLeaks world.
It is past time to abolish FIFA. It is like a gangrenous limb that requires amputation before the infection spreads and the beautiful game becomes decayed beyond all possible recognition.
Soccer is worth saving. FIFA needs to take its ball and go home.
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“Brazil has come face-to-face with the negative impacts of the realization of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, especially those living on or near the project sites.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the 12 host cities have been forcibly evicted and have lost their homes and livelihood. Moreover, FIFA has no intentions of allowing small and family businesses to benefit from the emerging opportunities during the Cup.
FIFA maintains exclusion zones with a 2km radius around stadiums and fan sites where they control the movement of people and the sale of products, putting countless street vendors out of business.
The poor are bearing the brunt of the burden and are met with fierce repression when they try to stand up for their rights.
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“FIFA’s World Cup contributes to the violation of several human rights, such as the right to adequate housing, the right to free movement, the right to work and the right to protest. Illegal under international human rights law, forced evictions have occurred all over Brazil in the wake of the Cup and have left many homeless and destitute.
Affected families often receive no information, compensation, alternative housing, or access to remedies.
In Recife in 2013 alone, over 2.000 families from the Coque Community were forced out of their homes. Moreover, the creation of FIFA exclusive zones will force countless street vendors out of business. In Belo Horizonte, over 130 have lost their source of income during the reconstruction of a stadium and are now prohibited from selling in the vicinity.
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FIFA has caused severe harm to many Brazilians. The company lacks a sense of responsibility and denies any connection to the alleged human rights violations. FIFA’s promise to leave behind a positive legacy stands in sharp contrast to the reality so far.
FIFA has imposed a series of conditions onto the host country which have contributed to these violations. FIFA’s business practices make it complicit in the violations of people’s rights.
FIFA seems to believe that the ‘urgency’ related to their infrastructure projects, as well as the profit they claim to be generating for society, justify their irresponsible behavior. FIFA is exempt from paying taxes, depriving Brazil of at least 1 billion reals (over US$ 400 million).
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The Fédération Internationale de Football Association („FIFA“), headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, employs some 310 people from over 35 nations.
The association that has set itself the goal of improving soccer, organizes soccer tournaments, most famously the FIFA World Cup. In 2012, FIFA reported a net profit of $89 million and financial reserves of $1.378 billion. FIFA remains largely exempt from taxes as it is officially seen as a not-for-profit organization.
The organization has been involved in a number of cases of corruption and heavily criticized for their complicity in human rights violations. However, FIFA has largely denied the legitimacy of these claims.