Corruption is an ugly side to the beautiful game of footbal

Corruption is an ugly side to the beautiful game of footbal

Investigators finally ask questions about corruption, bribery and Fifa's awarding of the football World Cup to Qatar and Russia


FBI agents remove boxes from football federation offices in Miami Beach, Florida, on Wednesday
FBI agents remove boxes from football federation offices in Miami Beach, Florida, on Wednesday
Photo: Reuters

Football is a beautiful game - but it isn't only a game. It is a global obsession, and its showcase, the World Cup, is one of the biggest entertainment spectacles on the planet. Hungry for prestige, revenue, tourism and construction projects, nations large and small, free and unfree, compete to host the World Cup and related tournaments. These events also yield billions of dollars for the International Federation of Association Football, better known by its French acronym, Fifa, and its member bodies.

In short, Fifa's decisions affect large quantities of the world's scarce resources - including, sometimes, the resources of countries with priorities even more pressing than sports. A business that big must operate transparently and accountably. Yet Fifa's recent decision to bury a report by its own ethics investigator, Michael Garcia, and Garcia's subsequent resignation in protest, is typical of the organisation's efforts to police itself.

So it is entirely proper that US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has issued an indictment officially alleging what had long been rumoured: Fifa is a cesspool of corruption and bribery. The indictment charged 14 people with racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracy.

The US investigation is still in its early phases, which is good, because there are bigger issues to be resolved.

Football fans have long been mystified at Fifa's choice of an increasingly aggressive and repressive Russia rather than several Western European candidates to host the World Cup in 2018; of rich Qatar, where the weather doesn't suit the sport, over the United States, Australia and a joint Japanese-Korean bid for 2022.

FIFA president asked to step down after corruption scandal is revealed

Many presumed that bribery of Fifa executives explained these bizarre picks, an opinion not weakened by the indictment - nor by the fact that Switzerland opened a criminal investigation of the 2018 and 2022 Cup bids on the same day that Swiss agents helped US prosecutors by arresting several Fifa officials in Zurich.

Yes, football is just a game but corrupt or dictatorial rulers love to bask in its reflected glory. That's why it would be misguided to celebrate the World Cup in Russia or in Qatar, where oppressed Asian guest workers labour to build stadiums. Now would be a good time for Fifa to take it back from those two countries and reopen the bidding under independent supervision.

It would also be a good time to end the career of Fifa President Sepp Blatter, who has reigned since 1998. He is up for re-election today. Though the US indictment does not name him, it names several of his top lieutenants. He protests that he had no idea what they might have been up to all these years - and that is not a good position.


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