Welcome Back: FIFA, the Evil Stepmom of Soccer

By Brian Kocak / For The Pitt News

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Imagine that a comically evil, diabolical organization has, unbeknownst to the general public, infiltrated society. The league has committed atrocities such as ignoring basic human rights, collecting millions of dollars in bribes, rigging votes and pushing its agenda on the unwilling. 

 Now what if I told you that organization fitting the description exists? And that it has infiltrated the real world’s most widespread entertainment — soccer? That’s right, the diabolical, evil mastermind I described is none other than FIFA, Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

FIFA is an international, “non-profit” governing body that controls and promotes soccer, including events and tournaments — most notably the World Cup. FIFA’s primary objective, “to improve the game of football constantly and promote it globally in the light of its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values, particularly through youth and development programmes,” is laughable compared to what it actually does. 

Now that the 2014 World Cup is over, an increasing amount of people are becoming aware of the organization’s wrongdoings.

For one, FIFA’s decision about where to host the tournament — a decision meant to foster brotherhood among nations through a common love of soccer — is reportedly based in bribery. 

FIFA officials allegedly accepted over $5 million in bribes to vote on and award the 2022 World Cup location to the country of Qatar. 

Qatar, which gained sovereignty a little more than 40 years ago, is certainly not first on the list of places to hold the World Cup. Temperatures during the World Cup months (typically June and July) reach an average of 106 degrees Fahrenheit in Qatar. Try taking a walk in 106 degrees, let alone playing soccer.

Additionally, Qatar amounts to what a modern-day slave state would look like. Passports of migrant workers are confiscated, pay is withheld and labor conditions are brutal, effectively preventing workers from fleeing the country. An estimated one immigrant worker dies each day from these deplorable conditions. And if this rate continues as is, at least 2900 worker-slaves will die from building the stadium. 

I hope for FIFA’s sake that this was, in fact, a bribe because to rationally think that this would be a good location for the tournament is imbecilic. It seems to fit with the organization’s track record, though: The 2018 World Cup is slated for Russia, another country not known for its great humanitarian and social values.

Even if it chose a host country that actually deserved the honor, hosting the World Cup brings scant tangible benefits to the country itself. FIFA forcefully peruses tax exemptions in all countries in which the Cup is hosted, including freedom from corporate tax, income tax, excise duties, local tax and any other taxes. A country is not eligible to be part of the bidding process for the cup if it does not comply with freeing FIFA from all taxes. So, while the host country bears the brunt of the expenses in regards to the World Cup, FIFA profits just for slapping its name on the tournament. 

Even more avaricious are the great lengths FIFA takes to protect its corporate sponsors. In Brazil, the location of the 2014 World Cup, there had been a decade-old ban on the sale of alcohol in stadiums in order to reduce violence among rival fans. Unfortunately for Brazil, Budweiser is one of FIFA’s corporate sponsors. FIFA allegedly pressured Brazil into lifting this ban in interest of their sponsor, that is, the interest of FIFA receiving money from Budweiser. 

So much for the “humanitarian” values and “brotherhood” the organizations pretends to promote. 

Selling out fan safety for money in support of corporate sponsors surely accomplishes this. British comedian John Oliver jokingly criticized FIFA when he said, “and at this point you can either be horrified by that or relieved that FIFA was not also sponsored by cocaine and chainsaws.”

Thus, FIFA doesn’t have the host country or the fans in mind when it comes to the World Cup. Unless the organization changes its approach to the tournament, the soccer-loving countries of the world should band together and initiate change — for their own sakes and for the sake of the fans.

Among these changes, perhaps the host country can be elected democratically among delegates representing various nations, not by a detached FIFA executive board. And the rules and regulations regarding hosting ought to be malleable, adjusted according to the different needs and settings of the different countries, not uniform according to the “needs” of FIFA.  

As long as the current World Cup process remains in place, I can’t help but feel disenchanted. Although I have much love for the game itself, FIFA sucks the joy out of soccer by means of greed and money. The pastime has been turned into a cash cow by men more concerned with money than the sport. Soccer is joy, and hopefully one day its biggest tournament can reflect that.

Write to Brian at brk64@pitt.edu

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