This week sees FIFA thrown back into the unwanted, and revealing, spotlight amidst fresh allegations of bribery in relation to the 2006 Germany World Cup bid. Franz Beckenbauer, along with three other high-ranking officials, are thought to have purchased votes using millions of Euros that were falsely listed as Gala expenses.
When the Fédération Internationale de Football Association was established 112 years ago, its motto was simple; “For the Game, for the World.” Since then, a host of allegations, convictions and revelations have hit the organisation, shaking it to its very rotten core. Foul! The Secret World of FIFA, published by Andrew Jennings in 2006, opened the floodgates for investigatory journalism that has since triggered US indictment and arrests. A decade later, it seems FIFA is not “For the World” at all; more accurately, it has been for a host of European Octogenarians and ex-footballers, whose greed and manipulation has only begun to become evident.
According to the 2013 FIFA financial report, the association made a profit well over $70 million; its cash reserves estimated at $1.4 billion. What’s worse is that those figures are three years old. Since then, FIFA has actually made $4 billion from the 2010 World Cup in Brazil, a tournament that cost the host country $2 billion. Lord Treisman, former chair of the English FA, described FIFA as a “Mafia Family”, riddled with years of “bribery, bungs and corruption.” The 2015 US indictment found evidence for at least $150 million worth of bribes, and this number will almost surely rise as investigation continues. The last decade has ravaged the reputation of the footballing body, to the point where its integrity, and credibility of its decisions, is essentially non-existent.
This recent revelation into German football reflects those high-profile allegations made last year on the two upcoming World Cup hosts, Russia and Qatar, in 2018 and 2022. Recently deposed ex-president, Sepp Blatter, held onto leadership with such desperation throughout his suspension, that his eventual removal from the position did little to remedy the damage already done to FIFA’s reputation. The corruption ran much deeper than Blatter, however, he represented all the ills that FIFA appears to have been riddled with during his tenure. His re-election in 2011, to the disbelief of the media, was littered with allegation of vote-rigging, and became indicative of the unjust manner of operations rooted at the most senior position at the association.
The US department of Justice arrested nine officials and four sports executives in 2015 for their roles in alleged bribery, one of their accusers being Theo Zwanziger, who suspected foul play as far back as 2011. Theo Zwanziger is now one of the four German officials being suspected of paying for votes towards Germany’s 2006 bid. It seems that the level of corruption runs so deep in FIFA, that no single individual’s hands are entirely clean. The fact that this reality currently surrounds the Swiss organisation is perhaps already sufficient reason to allow the drastic, long overdue changes being encouraged by many critics of the governing body.
The most shocking aspect of the investigations might be the revelation of quite how flippant and far-reaching the criminal behaviour had become. Singapore authorities jailed match-fixer, Eric Ding, for 6 years after he was found to have bribed Lebanese FIFA officials with prostitutes, before attempting to hide evidence in his socks as he was searched. His crimes in relation to any other organisation would almost certainly trigger action within the association to right those wrongs. Yet this crime barely registers as notable amongst the extensive wrongdoing that began with the most senior of FIFA’s leadership. The crimes alleged range from misdemeanours to major financial fraud. The US is currently preparing extradition for 14 more arrested officials; their crimes ranging from wire-tapping, to racketeering and money-laundering.
Whatever the outcome of this most recent investigation into German FA officials, the long and embarrassing deconstruction of FIFA’s conduct has risen well beyond the point at which questioning the very existence of such a body should be appropriate. Diego Maradona said in 2011 that FIFA officials were “dinosaurs who do not want to relinquish power. It’s always going to be the same.” If he was correct 5 years ago, he should be proven wrong now. A century ago, FIFA dedicated its existence to a simple phrase; For the Game, For the World. A century later, it has lost sight of the simple mantra it was created to uphold. By relinquishing its hold on the international game and displaying accountability for those crimes it has committed, FIFA might allow its final act to be its most redeeming.