Dear FIFA, Thanks for Ruining Soccer

On the start of the World Cup, arguably the biggest event in the soccer community, I find myself completely detached from the tournament. Don’t get me wrong, I adore soccer. As the child of Argentinean immigrants, I grew up not only playing, but watching and learning the sport from some of the most passionate fans who equate the sport with a religion. It quickly became part of my identity. But after all the pomp and circumstance of the tournament subsides, what is left isn’t the sport I watched my elders reminisce about. What’s left is an organization made up of recalcitrant, dishonest men. FIFA has managed to take a sport so enthralling, and twisted it into a mountain of corruption, bribery and greed.

My suspicions of FIFA’s greed began with the 2010 announcement of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the subsequent announcement of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Both of these countries have never participated in a World Cup, and have a very brief soccer history.

The bid for the 2018 tournament began with Australia, Japan and the U.S, all of which mysteriously dropped out. This left England, Russia, a joint bid of the Netherlands and Belgium as well as a Portugal and Spain bid. After the final vote, allegations of bribery surfaced, stating that FIFA’s executive committee had accepted bribes from the Russian federation. I should also mention the human rights violations circling in Russia, all of which raise even more suspicions. Hosting the World Cup there sends a very chilling message.

The corruption surrounding the 2022 Qatar bid is much worse. Testimony at the trial of high-ranking FIFA officials in New York in late 2017 revealed that Julio Grondona took at least a $1 million bribe for his vote in favor of Qatar winning the host bid. In preparation for the tournament, Qatar has also committed gross human rights violations. Thousands of migrant workers are building stadiums and risking their lives due to the harsh working conditions. Hundreds of workers have already died while the Qatari government has made it increasingly difficult to get accurate reports on the exact number of deaths related to the tournament preparations.

According to The Guardian, "statutory work breaks imposed during summer midday hours do not protect them sufficiently. An analysis of the weather in Doha last summer has also shown that workers on World Cup construction projects were in danger, despite the more advanced system used by the tournament organizer, Humidex, which measures safety levels of heat and humidity.” Migrant workers coming from Nepal, India and Bangladesh are often trapped in Qatar, unable to return home. The state has also announced a $100 billion project which includes building and renovating stadiums, hotels, railway systems and more. Their ability to fund this enormous project, according to Adam Hanieh, is due to state hierarchies and a massive flow of private capital from ruling families, oil tycoons and other society elites.

Even without these allegations circling the organization, hosting the World Cup has already proven to be disastrous for host cities, as evidenced by the 2010 World Cup. The first African nation to host the tournament, South Africa was left in ruin after the millions of soccer fans all departed and Spain took home the trophy. According to the Washington Times, the country spent about $3 billion to host the tournament. What did they get in return? “An intangible legacy”. The country build 10 stadiums for the event. Now, these serve as physical proof of the broken promise of an economic boost and a renewed sense of South African unity. And the $3 billion it spent to get everything ready? In the four years after the tournament, Cape Town alone spent another $32 million in maintenance since the final whistle was blown.

These aftermath effects were not just felt in South Africa. Other host countries, most recently, Brazil can’t shake the impact of the 2014 World Cup, with hollowed out stadiums now used as gathering places for the homeless.

While this may seem like a complete lack of smart financial planning on the part of the host cities, let’s not forget who is behind the outrageous demands that cities must adhere to in order to court the coveted tournament, all while inadvertently lining the pockets of FIFA’s highest-ranking officials. According to official FIFA documents, they require tax exemptions from the local governments and the tournament workers exempt from any labor laws. The host must also assume all responsibility, financial and otherwise. This willful disregard for host country’s laws has forced host cities to cave on alcohol sales in stadiums (to Budweiser of course), allowing unlimited amounts of foreign currency to flow in, to even forcing players to wear certain brands and much more.

The truth is, we may never know exactly how deep FIFA’s corruption goes. Marc Ambinder said it best, “FIFA is a cartel, a nonprofit entity that profits handsomely from the games, that exempts itself from tax laws, and that is fiercely resistant to change. It is run (mostly) by old white men with messianic tendencies whose response to criticism is to make messianic gestures.”

This all presents a quite cynical and bleak outlook on one of the most highly anticipated sporting events, one that temporarily breaks down barriers that divide societies and unites nations around a sport we all love. But while the flashy opening ceremony aims to dazzle the soccer world, I’ll be yearning for the days when soccer is no longer about the fanciest kits, lucrative sponsorship deals, match fixing, having the nicest stadiums or the the fight for broadcast rights, back to the time when soccer was simple. Grit, sacrifice, tenacity, and an unwavering love for the colors on your jersey.


Popular Posts