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Is FIFA a Corrupt Organization?

Should the 2022 World Cup Selection of Qatar be Voided?

Last November I blogged about the fact that football's world governing body, FIFA, was under growing pressure from a number of sponsors after its decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Sony, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa and Hyundai/Kia had expressed concern over claims of wrongdoing in the bidding process. In total, five of FIFA’s six main sponsors had issued statements relating to the Qatar bid.

Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup in December 2010, beating off competition from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. It seems unusual, to say the least, that the tiny country was selected twice in twelve years. The old fashioned ‘smell test’ led me to believe there is “something rotten in the state of Denmark.”

That was what I said last November. Now we find out that Swiss officials arrested top officials of FIFA in a sweeping, international anti-corruption investigation led by the U.S. Justice Department. Indictments against as many as ten current and former FIFA officials were filed including charges of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and center around the successful bids for the upcoming World Cups in Russia and Qatar.

The ethical question I address in this blog is whether FIFA is sufficiently corrupt to warrant prosecution under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. RICO includes as one of its offenses a pattern of extortion, which I believe, is demonstrable by examining not only past decisions and actions but, undoubtedly, the many more to come.

The organizational governance systems at FIFA, and management of the organization in particular, are a disgrace to the sports world. What's most unbelievable is the powers that be re-elected President Sepp Blatter for a fifth term. The 79-year-old defeated his rival, the Jordanian Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, on a vote of 133 to 73, which would have been enough to take the contest to a potential second round but al-Hussein withdrew.

The recent  indictments against FIFA officials follow months of intensifying speculation and years of corruption accusations against the organization. FIFA is a hugely powerful organization, presiding over the world’s most popular sport and awarding the World Cup. FIFA currently sits on more than $1.5 billion in cash reserves, according to the N.Y. Times. Nine current and former FIFA officials are accused of taking more than $150 million in bribes related to tournaments in North and South America.

While the indictment doesn't mention the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and FIFA says the tournaments will go on as scheduled, these charges have revived calls for a re-vote for the heavily criticized 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

The host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were voted on by 22 members of FIFA's executive committee in December of 2010. In the five years since the vote, a significant portion of those voters have faced serious corruption allegations.

Two of those 22 voters, Jack Warner and Nicolas Leoz, were arrested last Wednesday on corruption charges. Additionally, three other members of the 2010 FIFA executive committee — Mohammed Bin Hammam, Ricardo Terra Teixeira, and Chuck Blazer — all resigned in disgrace amid corruption allegations since 2010.

Just a few days ago it was revealed that Jérôme Valcke, the soccer organization’s secretary general, allegedly took $10 million back in 2008 from FIFA to accounts controlled by Jack Warner. The payment is a key piece of last week’s indictment accusing Mr. Warner of taking a bribe in exchange for helping South Africa secure the right to host the 2010 World Cup.

The corruption arrests only add to the controversy surrounding the 2022 Qatar World Cup. In addition to scheduling conflicts for players, there are several reports about inhumane working conditions for modern-day “slaves” helping build the infrastructure for the World Cup. A campaign  by the International Trade Union Confederation, Play Fair Qatarm and NewFifaNow claims, "more than 62 workers will die for each game played during the 2022 tournament."

While the FIFA arrests didn't go after corruption related to the 2022 World Cup specifically, they do raise of questions of the selection process and, in particular, the integrity and legitimacy of the executive committee that picked Qatar to host the 2022 games.

There can be no doubt that FIFA’s governing body is corrupt. The degree of corruption may be debatable, but its existence at the highest levels is not. Over the past three years, at least a dozen of the organization’s 24 Executive Committee (ExCo) members have been accused of serious improprieties stemming from bribes, illegal ticket sales and other scandals. While Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president since 1998, has escaped punishment—so far, at least—many of his colleagues have fallen or resigned. The endemic corruption not only compromises the quality of play on the field, but reduces fan support of the sport and tarnishes the game.

Should we care about the corruption at FIFA? Yes, because the corruption creates a disconnect between the game’s governing body and the fans. Even the presumption of unethical activity undermines confidence that real change will come to FIFA. Moreover, efforts to overhaul FIFA’s leadership structures and introduce genuine reforms continue to stall. In April, Alexandra Wrage, the chair of the anti-corruption body Trace International, resigned from FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee (IGC) after noting her frustration that the panel, set up in 2011 to encourage transparency, had little to no impact. Wrage wrote a scathing article for Forbes blasting Blatter for ignoring IGC recommendations. IGC head Mark Pieth stayed on, and while he continues to advocate for FIFA to make salaries public, no one expects that to happen.

There is no hope of cleaning up FIFA  while Blatter is president. The best-case scenario is that FIFA will take baby steps toward resolving the problems that lie below the surface. Every fan should be concerned that FIFA’s rotten core may have permanently stained the game. If Blatter has any conscience at all, he will resign and take responsibility for the legal and ethical failings under his administration.

If FIFA is not a corrupt organization, then I don’t know what is. The reputation of the sport is at stake and FIFA needs to clean house sooner, rather than later. Moreover, re-voting on the 2022 selection should be a given in the name of transparency.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 2, 2015. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: