By Anibal Prado
Corruption is a broad term, varying in definition. But fundamentally it is dishonest and illegal behavior and the misuse of authority for personal and private gain.
Sports are a multibillion, worldwide business with intricate ties to society, politics, and the economy. As ubiquitous as sports are around the world, corruption is ubiquitous in the world of sports.
Corruption and sports have been intertwined since birth in a parasitic relationship where the corrupt benefit at the expense of the sport, its fans, and society. People tend to view the sports world in a different realm than reality. This realm boasts ideas of equality amongst participants and humanistic values and ethics. Sports offer an escape from the realm of reality and the corrupt take advantage of this.
The corrupt don’t belong in the elysian realm of sports. Instead they are grounded in the world of reality – outside looking in, not interested in the advancement of the sports but advancement of their private status. It is because of their vantage point, i.e. outside looking in, and the idealisms of sports that they are able to commit these heinous acts.
When something corrupt happens in sports people are hesitant to address it. The people in a position to do something about corruption, often ignore it. These people are the governing bodies of sports and the media/press who cover events in sports. The choice to ignore corruption are more often than for monetary reasons. The governing bodies of sports aren’t going to investigate cases of corruption if it meant loss of revenue, sponsorships, deals with networks, etc.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” – Thomas Jefferson.
The role of media in society is to act as a watchdog to protect public interest and – like the literal watchdog – alerting when there is a problem. The media in sports is no exception but there is a unique characteristic about sports press that raises a large issue. The men and women who cover the sports are also fans. This is an issue because it creates a subconscious bias. The press, along with all other fans, don’t want to believe that there might be something systematically wrong with the sport they love so they choose to ignore it. Across all sports, corruption takes place behind close curtains but corruption has never been more prevalent and transparent than it is now with the FIFA scandal and the events that led up to it.
On May 27, 2015, Swiss authorities, armed with warrants issued by the United States Department of Justice, arrived at a luxury hotel in Zurich and arrested nine FIFA officials on corruption charges. These nine officials were indicted for taking $150 million in bribes for FIFA broadcasting rights. These arrest led to an investigation, led by the Swiss, into the selection process for the 2018 Russia World cup and the 2022 Qatar World Cup. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, seen by many as the head of the snake, was accused of laundering money intended for the development of soccer in third world nations to secure support and votes.
Even FIFA’s presidential election is riddle with shady practices. In FIFA’s presidential election process, each member nation has one equal vote. This means that all countries, no matter size or influence, have equal representation. When investigations began many African countries jumped to defend Sepp Blatter. In 2015 Blatter managed to win reelection only to resign shortly after.
Previous world cup host, South Africa, was accused of paying $10 million to secure the rights to the World Cup. Future hosts, Russia and Qatar, are suspect of the same accusation.
Much of the controversy revolves around the selection of the 2022 World Cup to the small, but rich Arab nation, of Qatar. Qatar is a nation with a population of 1.5 million, temperatures that exceed 100°F degrees in the summers, and a ban on alcohol. Not exactly a soccer fan’s paradise. But these problems pale in comparison to the human rights violations Qatar has been accused of.
Qatar has a large population of migrant workers from India and Nepal working on the construction for their upcoming world cup. Investigations have claimed that these migrant workers have had their identity papers taken, have been denied food and water, and that the very little they are paid is often late or none at all.
This, in effect, makes some of them slaves. The conditions they work in and their death rates are parallel to the enslavement of Africans in the New World. Since Qatar’s world cup bid win in 2010 up to 522 Nepalese workers and over 700 Indian workers have died. It is estimated that over 4000 workers will die before a ball is kicked off in 2022. It would not be an exaggeration to say Qatar is a slave state in the 21st century.
Even before all this, FIFA has never been a reputable organization. In preparation for the Brazil 2014 World Cub, their government spent over 11 billion dollars on stadiums and infrastructure – spending met with protest and unrest from people said to love soccer the most. FIFA made $4 billion – exempt from all taxes – while Brazil made a meager $500 million. FIFA came into an economically struggling nation, imposed their will and left them with long term structural and economic problems. The same could be said about South Africa and other developing host nations.
FIFA claims to be a nonprofit organization but has billions of dollars in the bank. FIFA denies accusations of corruption but federal investigations say otherwise. FIFA is a shady organization that took advantage of the world’s love for soccer. They treat host countries like cash cows and are the almost dictionary definition of corruption. The FIFA scandal is a geopolitical disaster that has even stronger implications of corruption in sports, society, and politics. If sport is supposed to be reflective of society, what does this have to say about the current state of society?