Played by hundreds of millions of people in every country in the world, from four-year old girls and boys to millionaire superstars, “football” (the term used throughout the world to refer to the game North Americans and Samoans call “soccer”) is unquestionably the world’s most popular sport. Since 1904 international football has been under the administration of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, commonly known as FIFA, and now comprised of 209 national football associations.
In 1977 the Brazilian football legend, Pelé, published My Life and the Beautiful Game. The phrase “beautiful game” has long been synonymous with football. In 2014 a WikiLeaks-type whistleblower leaked “hundreds of millions” of documents to Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, journalists at the London Sunday Times. Early in 2015 they published The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup, describing a not-very-beautiful sport. A partial explanation for these different views is the increase in globalization and commercialization of football during the intervening four decades.
Television and other broadcast rights and corporate sponsorships by international brands like Nike, Coca Cola, Visa etc. have vastly increased the resources now involved in global football and its quadrennial world championship, the World Cup. FIFA is now a billion dollar enterprise that urgently requires implementation of the standards of corporate governance that have developed over the past 25 years.
This need to impose the highest standards of international corporate governance at FIFA is obvious. Just as clear is the current total absence of any semblance of such governance standards at FIFA. Much worse is stark evidence of FIFA’s open hostility to any such changes in the FIFA culture, a culture of corruption that includes its President, Executive Committee, continental confederations and individual Members. FIFA’s President, Sepp Blatter, not only has no conception of corporate governance principles but has also repeatedly denied their applicability to FIFA. Most recently, for example, in an astounding confirmation of his ignorance, Blatter asserted that FIFA’s Ethics Committee cannot sanction him because he appointed them.
The FIFA culture of corruption pervades the entire FIFA ecosystem. Corruption is the culture of FIFA. If a genuine effort at fundamental reform of FIFA commences, this process of cleansing the culture of international football will likely take decades. Our half century of experience attempting to eliminate extortion and bribery from the conduct of international business through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the OECD Convention Against Bribery of Foreign Government Officials in International Business Transactions demonstrates just how long it can take to change such a pervasive culture. The abolition of slavery, the effort to secure women’s suffrage and the current campaign against smoking make stark the magnitude of the challenge of changing any culture, including FIFA’s culture of corruption.
Events at FIFA have been developing at an accelerating rate since the Department of Justice filed its May 27, 2015 Indictment. This brief Interim Essay addresses the FIFA fiasco as of early December 2015. Other major developments will occur prior to the start of any meaningful reform efforts at FIFA. Without serious reform, the billion dollar enterprise that is FIFA will continue to operate as it now does, with no accountability to anyone anywhere for anything.
- An Interim Essay on FIFA's World Cup of Corruption: The Desperate Need for International Corporate Governance Standards at FIFA door Bruce W. Bean in ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 22, 2016