The greatest criminal and most profitable enterprise in the world is FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association). As I write, billions are watching obscenely overpaid footballers competing for a cup that is long overdue for a total remake. The World Cup was a very good idea long ago, but so was selective democracy and waging war with bows and arrows.
The head gangster is Swiss and goes by the name of Sepp Blatter. He’s straight out of central casting: fat, stumpy, bald, and rather vulgar. FIFA was founded in 1904 as a rule-making committee that regulated football (soccer in America) when played between nations. That was simple enough, and for a while, it worked. Then the game got big, was played the world over, and commercialism reared its ugly head. Television billions poured into the game, and nations paid billions to build stadiums in order to stage the extravaganza. When Blatter took over as president in 1998, the so-called beautiful game was swimming in billions of dollars. Some of the stars were paid 500,000 greenbacks per week, and some so-called countries like Qatar—run as a fiefdom by a family called Thani, which employed near-slave labor to modernize the sandy hellhole—wanted in. Blatter was more than eager to oblige. FIFA’s ruling committee is made up of delegates from African, Asian, South American, North American, and European nations. FIFA’s officials were already under suspicion, especially the African ones, of taking bribes and of turning a blind eye to match-fixing so gamblers could make a killing. Of 350 people who work full-time for FIFA, only 6 are involved in keeping the game on the straight and narrow. The corruption became obvious four years ago, when FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, where summer temperatures exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit and whose population consists of 250,000 Qataris and 2 million foreign workers cum slaves. The vote wasn’t even close. African delegates voted en masse for the sandy site.
FIFA’s headquarters are in Zürich, Switzerland, and soon the stench of corruption overwhelmed even the pure alpine air. It became obvious the Thanis of Qatar had bribed the Africans to vote for them, but Blatter came up with a good defense. He called critics racists, then flew privately to Brazil and his glittering five-star hotel accommodations. So far, so bad, but even in Brazil, not everyone was concentrating on football. The cost of holding the cup has climbed to $15 billion, and some ex-world stars were calling it “the biggest heist in the history of Brazil.” Back in good old Helvetia, the Swiss government began to ask questions about FIFA’s finances, as the organization pays no taxes but raked in about $1.2 billion this year alone. See what I mean by calling it the greatest criminal organization ever? By comparison, the Mafia looks like a kindergarten lollipop scheme.
Bribery, match-fixing, a secret bidding process that chooses which country gets what—these are all of FIFA’s achievements, and this stateless conglomerate discovered the key to success by holding up the cup to various world leaders who wish to use the majesty of the competition for self-promotion. Some of them have nothing on the Führer and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Mind you, football is the most popular sport in the world, and the poorest ragamuffin in the most horrible diseased-plagued African village can—and does—play it. Football gives joy to people, especially the poor, but it’s the rich who are corrupting it and profiting from it. So what else is new? Just before the World Cup opened in Brazil, my old employer, London’s Sunday Times, broke the story of a match-fixing syndicate and the referees involved. Most of them were from the Far East and Africa. It seems that South Africa’s 2010 World Cup competition was rife with match-fixing by crooked refs. Most of them were from impoverished countries.
When my father owned a first-division Greek team, one of the three most successful in the land, there were rumors about our goalkeeper, an Argentine called Hector Errea. I was close to him, having been a goalie myself in school. I confronted him. One doesn’t bribe goalies, he told me; one bribes refs. “Too many goalkeepers look as if they took a dive when they miss an easy one. You can’t fool your teammates.” Hear, hear! And this was back in 1974, and the money was small-time change compared with now.
What is to be done? FIFA is an enormously successful moneymaker, yet very little seeps down to the development stage. An all-powerful commissioner with the kind of powers that cleaned up baseball after the World Series scandal of 1919 needs to be named, one with the kind of prestige only enjoyed by Supreme Court justices or certain royals in Europe. The lavish offices, wages, and travel expenses enjoyed by today’s FIFA biggies have to stop. Open books and open voting are a must. Sepp Blatter and his motley accomplices need to resign or be prosecuted for graft.
[By Marcello Casal/ABr [CC-BY-3.0-br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]