In 1904 the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, universally known as FIFA, was established to organize, govern and promote “football,” the sport North Americans and Australians call “soccer.” Football has hundreds of millions of participants everywhere on Earth. Four-year old girls and boys and multi-millionaire superstars play this game, unquestionably the world’s most popular sport.
In May and December, 2015, the United States Department of Justice released two indictments charging more than forty FIFA-affiliated persons and entities with bribery and other corrupt transactions extending over twenty-four years.
What? There’s corruption in sports you say? Yes, the many temptations which the billions of dollars football generate have not been neglected. FIFA has endured more than a century of scandals and yet remains all powerful and fundamentally corrupt. Why is this? Does anyone care? Should something be done?
This article briefly reviews FIFA’s recent corruption scandals and details the steps FIFA has taken to create its Potemkin style, “good-looking corporate governance.” This article highlights that absent imposing accountability on FIFA, the deliberate abuse of FIFA’s obligations to players, teams, officials, fans and sponsors of the world’s most popular sport will continue. The future for FIFA and football looks a great deal like its past century. The administration of global football is on track to continue its long history of corruption, of mendacity cloaked in opacity.
Part I presents the background of FIFA as an institution, setting out football’s global corruption landscape and then focuses on corruption within FIFA today. Part II describes the corporate governance mechanisms that have developed to deal with commercial corruption in the business community and notes the lack of success we have had in this realm. We then consider the most recent FIFA “reforms” triggered by recently revealed scandals, each such reform accompanied by positive-sounding press releases offered by FIFA’s spinmeisters and taken directly from FIFA’s extensive “Corruption Crisis Playbook.” The farcical nature of these reforms is explained. Part III considers the not-very-promising prospects for reform under FIFA’s newly elected leadership, most of whose members have long enjoyed FIFA’s lucrative opaque mendacity. Part IV surveys possible paths to accountability for FIFA, and Part V concludes by asking whether reform at FIFA is worth the struggle.
FIFA’s century-old motto is “For the Game. For the World.” As this article demonstrates, however, the actual motto of those who control FIFA and football has been and remains - “Just for Us.”