FIFA’s New President and What Needs to Be Done
Gianni Infantino was elected the new president of FIFA in late February following mass allegations of corruption within the organization. His first task is clear: attempt to salvage whatever is left of FIFA’s credibility and reputation.
This would have been a tall order for FIFA regardless of who was elected to replace Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA from 1998 until his removal in 2015. The alleged instances of bribery, fraud, and racketeering go back years; the arrests following a 2015 Swiss raid on the FIFA headquarters in Zurich focused on $150 million in bribery, money laundering, and fraud. Bribery for clothing sponsorships and marketing rights are included in those millions of dollars. A major U.S. sportswear company was implicated in the US Justice Department’s indictment for paying to be the sole provider of uniforms and equipment for the Brazilian national team. Though the investigators refuse to name the company, Nike’s current deal with the team closely resembles that described in the documents.
Perhaps the most damning allegations within the organization during Blatter’s 17-year reign were those of vote- buying during the selection of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which went to Russia and Qatar. Twenty four FIFA executive committee members voted in the selection, half of whom have been accused of corruption. The fact that Qatar won the bid, beating out the U.S., Australia, and other larger countries, was especially strange. Temperatures are supposed to be well into the hundreds, and the city that is supposed to host the Final does not yet exist. Current projections place the overall cost to be over $200 billion, much more expensive than the Cup held in Brazil in 2014. Qatar spent huge amounts of money bringing the World Cup to their country, and they are likely to spend much more building up the infrastructure needed to host it. Not to mention the cost in human lives. At least over a thousand workers have died in the country already.
Soccer has a huge following on every continent and that translates into substantial sports power. The World Cup, the largest sporting event in the world, has an audience seven times larger than the Superbowl and has around 100 times the budget. Boasting more member nations than the UN, its global impact is massive and its influence on the countries that host it is even bigger. If FIFA really was just about soccer, Brazilian citizens would have no business protesting against the World Cup on the scale that they did. But the past decade has shown that the power of FIFA goes beyond sports. FIFA has the ability to completely transform a country’s political and economic atmosphere. Countries hosting the World Cup tend to pour huge amounts of money into preparations. For example, Brazil spent around $14 billion on the Cup it hosted in 2014. Most of this money only benefited the construction companies building the massive stadiums, many of which will sit unused. People were violently evicted from their homes. The Cup undoubtedly brought revenue into the country, but at the cost of its local residents.
These are certainly not all the instances of wrongdoing; the allegations could span pages. The FIFA presidential election in 2011 was rocked by these mass allegations, yet Blatter ran unopposed and regained his position as president. Nothing changed, however, because Blatter denied all wrongdoing and had been perpetuating this sort of fraud and corruption for decades.
The question now is can Infantino really change FIFA? Is the world’s largest sports organization really capable of overcoming the corruption that has plagued its members for decades? Infantino wants to “bring the football back to FIFA,” but this will not be as easy at it seems. Many are left wondering if his reforms will have substance or if they will simply rebrand the organization in an expensive and extensively publicized process.
Infantino, born only 6 miles from Blatter, only entered the race after Michel Platini, former president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and Infantino’s former boss, was suspended by the Ethics Committee for accepting a “disloyal payment” from Blatter. Some question whether or not there is still loyalty left to Platini, but many see Infantino as the beginning of the change that FIFA needs.
There has already been evidence of progress. Reforms have recently passed and the organization contends that “the way that FIFA is governed will be overhauled”. These reforms included a less active role for the president, maximum term limits, member eligibility checks, annual compensation disclosures, and higher ethical standards. FIFA under Infantino seems dedicated to better modes of governance, transparency, accountability, and diversity.
Investigations are ongoing into FIFA’s shady past, and Infantino would do well to recognize and fix the problems that for so long were inherent parts of the organization.Soccer itself is a very political game and has often been used as both political propaganda and physical manifestations of conflict. Fans are emotionally and economically invested. If FIFA’s internal politics are not in order, that will have an adverse effect on the countries in which it inevitably exerts its influence.
- Alexie Schwarz