Everything You Know About FIFA is Wrong


shutterstock_82074565FIFA is a shadowy tax-free organisation whose army of bureaucrats has been extorting bribes for years while they auction off the rights to host the World Cup. All that is evil about FIFA is personified by Sepp Blatter, who was forced to resign as a result of corruption investigations led by the FBI. Because FIFA controls world football with an iron fist, only change at FIFA will clean up the game.

Right? Wrong.

FIFA is a private organisation that pays taxes, publishes audited financial statements, and by-and-large is remarkably transparent (the recent election of the President was overseen by notaries and streamed live on the web.) It employs some 200 people in its general secretariat. None of them were arrested or are suspected of having taken bribes. For good reason – they wield little power.

The major decisions — including the major decision that the western press cares about i.e. where the World Cup is to be hosted — were taken by the Executive Committee of FIFA.* The members of the Executive Committee are the President and a female member (really) elected by the congress, and 23 members appointed by the confederations.

The congress is the 209 national football associations, who act on a one-country one-vote basis. The confederations are groupings of the national associations, on a largely geographical basis: CONMEBOL (South America), AFC (Asia), UEFA (Europe), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North America and the Caribbean), and the OFC (Oceania: i.e. a handful of Pacific islands). The confederations are independent of FIFA. Who the confederations appoint to the Executive Committee is up to the confederations, just as who the national associations send to represent them at the congress is up to each national association.

National competitions are, obviously, run by the relevant national association. One-off matches between national teams are arranged by the two national associations involved. Competitions between teams from more than one country in a region are run by the confederation(s) involved: so, for example, UEFA runs the Champions’ League (a club competition) and the Euro (a competition between teams representing their countries).

The only competitions run by FIFA are the finals of the World Cups – age group, women’s and the big one. (The Club World Cup, featuring the winners of the Champions’ League and the other confederations’ equivalents is the only club competition run by FIFA. You probably haven’t heard of it.) The qualifying competitions for all these cups are run by the relevant confederation.

All of the age-group and women’s World Cups lose money for FIFA. The only real source of income comes from the rights to sponsor and broadcast the (big) World Cup finals event (which is also the most expensive event to run; did you know there is hundreds of millions of prize-money paid to the associations that perform well at the World Cup, or that the travel and accommodation expenses of the participating countries are covered, or that money is paid to clubs for the loss of services of their players taking part in the World Cup?).

Any rights to sponsor and broadcast all other football/soccer matches in the world belong to the clubs, national associations or confederations involved. It was in relation to bribes to award rights to various competitions in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL that the arrests in Zurich were made. Nothing to do with FIFA. The people involved were ‘FIFA officials’ in the sense that they had been appointed by their confederations to the FIFA Executive Committee or one of its sub-committees or dependencies, but there was nothing FIFA could do about that, and they were not acting their FIFA capacities when they allegedly accepted bribes or formed a conspiracy to commit wire fraud or whatever the A-G wants to hang them with.

There are two exceptions to this mentioned in the indictment: the $10 million dollars paid by the South African Football Association to the Caribbean Football Union; and an attempt by a challenger to Blatter to bribe his way to the presidency of FIFA last time around. This second has already been dealt with by FIFA with very public banishments. The first is more interesting.

For some national associations – those in rich countries, basically – the sale of sponsorship and media rights surrounding the national team brings in lots of revenue. For everyone else, the power conferred by being appointed to the Executive Committee – or having influence over the Executive Committee – is a valuable thing. It is entirely appropriate to use one’s vote to support the candidate that offers to do most for football in the country you represent, whether that be by arranging friendly matches (so you can sell the associated media and sponsorship rights), or building high-tech football stadia, or just paying money. Taking a benefit for yourself, however, would be wrong.

When the South African Football Association was seeking to host the 2010 World Cup the South African government agreed to make a $10 million payment to the Caribbean Football Union (a sub-group of CONCACAF) as part of the African Diaspora Legacy Programme. The payment was made by FIFA withholding $10 million from the amounts to be paid to (basically) the South African Football Association and, instead, paying the sum directly to the CFU. As it happens, the CFU was run by the corrupt – and later banished – Jack Warner, who, it is alleged, pocketed the money himself. Whether this last fact was known by the (democratically elected) South African government is an interesting question, but not one for FIFA.

This is as ‘close’ as the current allegations get to Sepp Blatter. Which is to say, not close at all. Mr Blatter is no saint. He is a politician. But to blame him for corruption in the Caribbean and Latin America in relation to organisations he has no control over and sporting events that were outside his remit seems a bit harsh.

So why, having been triumphantly re-elected, did he resign? One could do worse than to take him at his word:

Since I shall not be a candidate, and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts. For years, we have worked hard to put in place administrative reforms, but it is plain to me that while these must continue, they are not enough.

The Executive Committee includes representatives of confederations over whom we have no control, but for whose actions FIFA is held responsible. We need deep-rooted structural change.

The size of the Executive Committee must be reduced and its members should be elected through the FIFA Congress. The integrity checks for all Executive Committee members must be organised centrally through FIFA and not through the confederations. We need term limits not only for the president but for all members of the Executive Committee.

I have fought for these changes before and, as everyone knows, my efforts have been blocked. This time, I will succeed.

Interesting times are ahead. Just don’t expect to learn any of it from the media.

(As an aside, FIFA doesn’t even control the laws of football/soccer. For historical reasons they are set by the International Football Association Board, made up of representatives of FIFA, and the English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh football associations.)

* The new FIFA constitution reserves the decision on the host country for the big World Cup finals to the congress.

Tags: ,

There are 11 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Asquared Inactive

    Thanks for writing this. I knew some of this but far from all of it, so it’s a good summary of the way FIFA works.

    • #1
  2. Jackal Inactive

    Thanks for the post, that’s a lot of info. But . . . FIFA / Sepp Blatter are not innocent just because members are free to bribe each other. Is there a non-objectionable theory for how Russia / Qatar got the next two WCs?

    • #2
  3. genferei Member

    Jackal:FIFA / Sepp Blatter are not innocent just because members are free to bribe each other.

    Sorry, I don’t really understand what you’re saying here.

    Is there a non-objectionable theory for how Russia / Qatar got the next two WCs?

    Poland and Urkraine have hosted the Euro. Russia has hosted the Winter Olympics. It (in the guise of the Soviet Union) was the runner-up to host the 1990 World Cup. If South Africa and Brazil can host one, I don’t see that even Russia will be unable to. If your concern is about Russia being a nasty country, then that’s something else.

    Qatar strikes me as a ridiculous place to hold a World Cup finals. They had the benefit of running against the US, Japan and South Korea, who had all been fairly recent hosts, and Australia, which, while it has hosted the Olympics, is a long way away, and is not a big soccer country. Qatar also has squillions to spread around to countries that would support its bid – which is fine. And to individuals, which is not.

    • #3
  4. genferei Member

    I should add that my standards for the behaviour of bidders and Executive Committee members in respect of bids for the 2018 and 2020 World Cups are far laxer than FIFA’s own standards, that FIFA referred the matter to the Swiss authorities some time ago, and that it is in the process of releasing a fulsome report on the bids (in addition to the 42 page summary it already released). Not a lot of people come out looking good in that report.

    • #4
  5. Concretevol Thatcher

    Doesn’t FIFA govern some sort of primitive kickball league or something??

    • #5
  6. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy

    Roger Goodell makes Sepp Blatter look like a petty thief.

    • #6
  7. genferei Member

    For those wanting to read source documents, the indictment is here (PDF), and the summary of the FIFA Ethics Committee investigation into the 2018/2022 bid process is here (PDF).

    • #7
  8. user_358258 Member

    Isn’t it FIFA that has the $1 billion contingency fund?

    • #8
  9. Jude Inactive

    Thanks for the informative post genferei. I didn’t know that the confederations were completely independent. Sepp Blatter’s name and visage are so reminiscent of a Bond villain that it is easy to assume guilt. I’ll try to keep an open mind on it, but if he appears on TV with a cat in his lap, I’ll know.

    • #9
  10. Jackal Inactive

    I take back every mean thing I thought about Sepp. He’s obviously the most interesting man in the world.

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Member

    Genferei –

    Wasn’t there some controversy around the issuance of (only) the summary of the Ethics Committee report, including a strong protest from the author (or one of the authors) of the report, Michael Garcia?

    I would be interested to get your take on this.

    • #11

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.