Switzerland’s embarrassment: FIFA, Qatar and Blatter.
Now that the world can breathe again with Germany’s win at the 2014 World Cup, the Zurich-based Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) will need to start considering what soccer is supposed to be about. And what kind of message it should be sending to young people, who hold their heroes in the highest esteem, and need to understand the real meaning of sports and fair play.
Football should not be about head-butting or biting on the field. But nor should it be about corruption, racism, human rights abuses or the prohibitive mis-spending of funds for self-glorification, such as the much maligned FIFA film United Passions that cost an estimated CHF 28 million.
Yet, this is what FIFA and its controversial Swiss president Sepp Blatter, who is now unabashedly seeking a fifth term, have come to represent. And not just among adult critics, including the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in Nyon, but also young players. Local kids, including my son, playing with Swiss and French teams in the Lake Geneva region no longer perceive FIFA as being the convener of the World Cup, but rather “that organization” – one which promotes dishonesty and only responds to interests which have little to do with football. FIFA is not the sort of body to which parents, whether in Switzerland, Brazil or Ghana, should entrust the aspirations, passions and dreams of their soccer-playing children.
The London Sunday Times’ allegations that Qatar purchased the 2022 games with millions of dollars worth of bribes administered by disgraced FIFA vice-president Mohamed bin Hammanare now being investigated by former US attorney Michael Garcia as part of a semi-independent part of FIFA’s ethics committee. His report is expected to be revealed by FIFA toward the end of July. Mainly European and North American FIFA members are urging that, regardless of the outcome of the report, there should be a new vote regarding Qatar’s hosting.
But alleged bribery is not the only issue linked to Qatar. This wealthy Middle East country, which is seeking to improve its global credentials by buying into world culture, humanitarianism and other high profile issues, energetically sought to counter criticism of its mistreatment of foreign workers at the recent Human Rights Council in Geneva. According to Human Rights Watch and other groups, Qatar has failed to halt the abuse, including scores of deaths, of migrant labourers engaged in the construction of the 2022 soccer stadiums. This is another embarrassing quagmire in which FIFA now finds itself wallowing.
Corruption within the organization is being looked into by the FBI, Scotland Yard and other international investigators. Alexandra Wrage, President of the US-based non-profit anti-bribery group, Trace International, was part of an independent panel to investigate corruption allegations within FIFA, but quit last year out of frustration. She complained that FIFA was “resistant to change” and not taking the allegations seriously.
Lead FIFA sponsors, such as Adidas and CocaCola, are worried by the growing negative publicity surrounding Blatter and FIFA. Nonetheless, FIFA has reportedly earned over $4 billion in commercial sponsorship and television rights from Brazil 2014.
FIFA’s PR officials are pushing hard to present a credible, public face of concern, such as its suspension of the Nigerian Football Association for government interference earlier this month. The reality, however, is that FIFA has severe image problems. Even FIFA employees privately voice embarrassment over Blatter’s obsessive insistence on running for a fifth term, while UEFA members would like nothing better than to get rid of him. Yet given his support among FIFA’s African and Middle East members, Blatter clearly considers that he is in the right. He also looks set for a new term.
As the father of a keen soccer son, my question is: If Blatter really cares about football and its future among new generations, then why not resign and let new blood take the reins in order to create a cleaner and more transparent organization? If not, then Switzerland should consider whether it really needs to host an international agency that – under its present leadership – is so clearly unfit as a role model of sporting governance for our children.