As Russia sets the stage for what is considered one of the major sporting events on the world stage, many of you may be asking, “Is FIFA really still a thing?” I for one can’t at all recall the 2014 World Cup, although that may be because I was shut up in a military base doing cadet training, but I sure as hell can remember hearing FIFA in the news a lot, and whenever it came up, the picture got bleaker.
Enter this series, here to ask the important questions you want answers to: Is FIFA still a thing? Does anyone really remember the 2014 World Cup? Who will be watching this year? What about that Russia scandal again? Follow along with me as we take a dive into the politics of soccer, and arm yourself with knowledge for those backyard BBQs this World Cup season!
So, let’s go back, before we look ahead to what’s promising to be an interesting tournament. Back to a time when K’NAAN’s (where is he now?) anthem “Waving Flag” swept the globe into a frenzy of excitement that we could all come together and unite over a shared love of sport. Back to a time before Trump effectively alienated the USA from the G7, before Ontario made a Big Mistake, before we subjected ourselves to Waterloo Engineering, and before I got three flat tires on my bike in the span of one month (if any readers are bike geniuses, please hmu). This was a time when FIFA was still considered an ethical organization by many outsiders… Halcyon days indeed.
At the end of 2010’s World Cup, FIFA awarded the small but rich country of Qatar the 2022 World Cup, a country who has yet to qualify for the World Cup and who will play its first World Cup match on home soil in 2022 (the first country to do so since Italy in 1934). It was around this time that you probably started hearing about vote-buying and corruption that had been flying if not under the radar, then at least under the table. In fact, we can go farther back still to 1991, when allegedly FIFA’s executive was starting to accept bribes for exclusive TV contracts. This practice continued through two successive generations of officials, racking up $150 mil for the broadcasting companies (no wonder they’re all broke!).
The allegations of undeserved awarding of World Cup locations to Russia and Qatar, given both their checkered pasts, led FIFA to commission a report by Michael Garcia (once rumoured to be under consideration for FBI director) that cleared them of wrong-doing. Garcia came back in 2014 with a 350-page report which FIFA chose not to publish, releasing instead a 42-page “summary” which said they were cleared of bribery in the bidding process.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2015 when police in Zurich, acting under the request of US authorities, raided the hotel rooms of seven FIFA officials, placing them under arrest on charges of severe corruption. The President, Sepp Blatter (a name I always thought was way too close to step ladder), denied the charges until September of the same year when he, too, became the subject of a Swiss criminal investigation, part of the US inquiry. December brought more arrests and more claims of “criminal schemes” (bribery and kickbacks) to the tune of $200 mil. The charges they faced included racketeering conspiracy, fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and obstructing justice.
Through it all, Sepp Blatter continued to assert that he would not step down unless voted out, and accordingly in February 2016, the “Extraordinary FIFA Congress” was held in Zurich. At the conference, Gianni Infantino was elected to the role of President and “a package of landmark reforms” was approved, according to the FIFA website. This has apparently put an end to the corruption of the last nearly three decades, but in my opinion, it’s best to wait and see. So yes, FIFA is still a thing. An estimated 3.2 billion people tuned in to watch the final match of the 2014 games, and Moscow expects 1 million (with finger to mouth) fans will be pouring into their city to watch the matches there.
And why should I watch, you ask. Well, among other reasons, Messi and Ronaldo are perhaps playing their last Cup! We’ve also got you covered World-wise with teams from Africa, the Middle-East, all over Europe, Asia, and South America. Notable for their absence this year, however, are Ireland, Northern Ireland, Chile, the Netherlands, the US, and Italy, all past major players on the soccer scene.
I know I told you I’d answer what about that Russia scandal, but I just don’t think we have enough time (or this article will be three years long), and apparently people don’t care enough to boycott, so if I choose to talk about it in the next issue you’ll have to tune in again and find out! In the meantime, procrastinate well my friends. Happy World Cup!