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The Corruption of FIFA

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A currently developing issue in the news has to do with the corruption of FIFA, the organization responsible for governing the sport of soccer at the global level. This sample politics essay explores this issue in considerably greater depth. The essay will be broadly organized into four main parts.

  1. An overview of recent developments in the FIFA scandal
  2. The history of the scandal
  3. The role played by the United States with respect to the scandal
  4. The potential implications of the scandal for the future of FIFA and of soccer

Recent developments in the FIFA scandal

On the morning of the 27th of May 2015 (European time), plainclothes police officers in Zurich, Switzerland:

"Entered the Baur au Lac; the five-star hotel was the site of this week's annual meeting of FIFA, soccer's global governing body. The officers ascertained room numbers from the front desk, headed upstairs, and arrested six FIFA executives;" and this happened because the Justice Department of the United States brought a host of charges against the executives, including "racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering" (McFarland, paragraphs 1-2).

The events concerning the relevant charges go back as far as the 1990s, and the charges primarily have to do with bribery and corruption with respect to televising rights, not to be confused with copyright laws and practices. The issue at hand in this particular investigation is thus somewhat unrelated at the logical level to the most recent problems that have been plaguing FIFA (which will be discussed further below). However, it is clearly related to those other problems at the political level, insofar as this recent development adds to the general emerging perception of FIFA as an utterly corrupt organization.

The investigation

The investigation that led to this turn of events was an extremely complex one. As McLaughlin and Botelho have reported:

"The complexity of the investigation [U.S. Attorney General] Lynch described was evident by the federal officials accompanying her, including an assistant U.S. attorney, FBI Director James Comey and Richard Weber, head of the IRS criminal investigation division" (paragraph 6).

Among other charges, the organization was accused of mismanaging its resources (non-profits are held to a higher fiscal responsibility than other corporations). Thus far, although FIFA has been informally accused of a broad range of corrupt practices, it has largely been able to evade the consequences and implications as a result of its power as an organization and the nature of its relationships with other organizations within the European context. This would seem to be the first time that such serious and actual charges have been brought against FIFA. This is somewhat ironic, insofar as it is the United States that is bringing the charges when soccer is not even a major sport within the United States.

The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, was naturally not pleased with this recent turn of events. In particular, Blatter has commented negatively on the timing of the American investigation: it occurred a mere two days before the FIFA presidential election. Lutz, Gibson, and Murray have quoted Blatter as stating the following:

"No one is going to tell me that it was a simple coincidence, this American attack two days before the election of FIFA. It doesn't smell good. Why would I step down? That would mean I recognize that I did wrong. I fought for the last three or four years against all corruption" (paragraphs 3-4).

This is a characteristically arrogant statement. In any event, Blatter has in fact since ended up winning re-election as President of FIFA. So, if the investigation was actually meant to hurt his bid, then it would seem to have met with failure at this level.

Historical implications of the FIFA scandal

In truth, FIFA has been the target of allegations of corruption for some years, now. For example, Alberici reported the following on the 10th of May 2011 (that is, over four years ago):

"World soccer governing body FIFA has been rocked by new allegations of corruption, with two members allegedly paid $1.5 million each to vote for Qatar instead of Australia to host the 2022 World Cup" (paragraph 1).

Other similar allegations have also been made over the years, and previously existing allegations have also developed further on the basis of findings from investigations. In the year 2013, for example, Davis was already able to write:

"The degree of corruption may be debatable, but its existence at the highest levels is not" (paragraph 1).

In almost all cases, however, FIFA has managed to place the blame on specific members of its organization, and thereby avoid the conclusion that the organization, as such, is marked by a fundamental corruption in its very culture and structure.

In this context, the recent development regarding FIFA corruption is significant because it would seem to constitute serious evidence that FIFA, as an organization, is fundamentally (and not merely incidentally) marked by corruption. Moreover, the fact that the United States was behind this investigation suggests perhaps increases the credibility of the general public perception of FIFA, insofar as it would seem to imply that the corruption was serious enough to actually catch the attention of the United States and compel it to action. It can also be suggested that the timeframe of the charges brought by the United States—reaching all the way back to 1991—highlights the systemic nature of the corruption within FIFA. Corruption over the span of a couple years could be attributed to a few "bad eggs" within the organization; corruption reaching back across generations of FIFA members, on the other hand, would necessarily have to be attributed to the organization itself, and to the general culture and values that the organization tends to foster. Since the World Cup and other FIFA events are popular worldwide, like the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the scandal garnered international media attention.

The United States' role in FIFA's scandal

It is perhaps worth delving further into the role played by the United States vis-a-vis FIFA. The United States, of course, has a history of intervening in global affairs when its own interests are at issue (as, for example, has happened with regard to the Ebola epidemic). It may be a little difficult at first, however, to understand what the United States has at stake with respect to FIFA. The basic justification that Blake has quoted FBI Director Comey as providing for the investigation, though, is the following:

"If you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that is through meetings or through using our world-class financial system, you will be held accountable for that corruption" (paragraph 6).

So, it is not actually the case that the United States has decided to directly hold FIFA accountable, as such. Rather, the point is: FIFA engaged in wrongdoings in its business relationships within the United States; and as such, the United States now has the prerogative to pursue justice against the members of FIFA who were guilty of such wrongdoings. This explains the nature of the specific charges that have been brought against FIFA.

The involvement of the United States can also be explained in terms of the fact the possibility that the watchdog role has almost de facto fallen upon the United States as a result of the nature of its jurisdiction and global power. For example, McLaughlin and Botelho have quoted former FIFA head of security Chris Eaton as stating the following:

"The fact is there's been no jurisdiction that was able to take a report, or take an action, or to coordinate a global action such as the U.S. has done today...We're seeing for the first time a very powerful jurisdiction take action against a very powerful, opaque organization" (paragraph 12).

In other words, the power of FIFA as an organization has been such that it has been able to evade criminal charges of corruption through the use of whatever holistic resources it has had at its disposal; but with the United States, FIFA essentially met its match and was no longer able to evade being held legally accountable for its actions.

Whether the charges are criminal or civil, FIFA can be held to account primarily because it planned illegal actions within the United States (see the difference between civil and criminal cases). For example, it would seem that soccer is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, including among students. There is evidence that FIFA used the American banking system in order to figure out how to capitalize on this growing market through corrupt and illegal means. In this context, the United States is prosecuting members of FIFA for nothing other than this illegal use of the national financial system. Again, strictly speaking, this is not necessarily connected to the more recent allegations that have been made regarding the corruption of FIFA within Europe itself—except in the sense that all these problems are the result of FIFA's fundamentally corrupt organizational culture.

Critical reflection on the FIFA scandal

Although the United State's indictment of key members of FIFA is an important first step to addressing corruption within the organization, questions can still be raised with respect to the extent to which the indictment will truly affect FIFA as an organization. As Manfred has asked:

"But are things really going to change at FIFA? If Blatter's belief is that this scandal is about bad actors, and the solution is simply to remove those actors (as FIFA has been doing for years) what really changes?" (paragraph 17).

In other words, there is a risk that FIFA will be able to spin the current indictment as affecting just a few bad members of the organization and not the organization as a whole, as it has already done several times in the past. This risk is especially strong insofar as the American indictment only addresses FIFA's wrongdoings within the United States itself and not elsewhere on the planet. In short, further multilateral efforts will probably be needed in order to truly address the systemic corruption of FIFA, especially now that Blatter has now been re-elected as president of the organization and thus in a sense vindicated in his position that the organization as a whole has done nothing wrong.

Moreover, a sad implication of the scandals surrounding FIFA is that blame may somehow become refracted from the organization to the very game of soccer itself. For example, Davis has written about the apparently pervasive problem of match-fixing, where stakeholders in a given soccer game are bribed in order to produce a certain outcome. Such activities would clearly deprive the soccer games themselves of all integrity, with the result that fans would feel deeply cheated for having emotionally invested themselves in the games. If for no other reason, then, it could be considered morally imperative to address the corruption in FIFA for the simple aesthetic reason of not corrupting and rendering meaningless a sport that means so much to so many people in the world. If the United States wishes to take a lead in this effort, then this is probably well and good, even as it is a little ironic in light of the United States' traditional disengagement with the sport of soccer.

Read about another recent sports scandal: This one involved the Patriots, an NFL team. 

In summary, this essay has consisted of a discussion of the corruption of FIFA. The sample essay has discussed recent developments, the history of corruption in the organization, the role of the United States in the present situation, and the implications for the future of FIFA and of soccer. Ultimately, it can be affirmed that while the action taken by the United States is a significant first step in addressing the corruption within FIFA, further internationally cooperative efforts will need to be taken in order to compel FIFA to address the systemic nature of its problem and thereby begin restoring integrity to the game of soccer.

Works Cited

Alberici, Emma. "Fresh Bribery Claims Rock FIFA." ABC. Web. 10 May 2011. 30 May 2015. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-10/fresh-bribery-claims-rock-fifa/2712554.

Blake, Paul. "FIFA Scandal: Why the US is Policing a Global Game." BBC. 26 May 2015. Web. 30 May 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32889845.

Davis, Noah. "The Series of Scandals Have Not Only Tainted FIFA, but Undermined Trust in the Game as Well." Americas Quarterly. 2013 Summer. Web. 30 May 2015. http://americasquarterly.org/content/series-scandals-have-not-only-tainted-fifa-undermined-trust-game-well.

Lutz, Tom, Gibson, Owen, and Warren Murray. "FIFA Corruption: Sepp Blatter Blasts US Authorities over Investigation." Guardian. 30 May 2015. Web. 30 May 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/may/30/warning-of-more-fifa-corruption-charges-as-sepp-blatter-retains-presidency.

Manfred, Tony. "The Sad Reality of What the $150 Million Bribery Scandal Really Means for FIFA." Business Insider. 30 May 2015. Web. 30 May 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/what-the-bribery-scandal-means-for-fifa-2015-5.

McFarland, K. M. "Everything You Need to Know about FIFA's Corruption Scandal." Wired. 27 May 2015. Web. 30 May 2015. http://www.wired.com/2015/05/fifa-scandal-explained/.

McLaughlin, Eliott C., and Greg Botelho. "FIFA Corruption Probe Targets "World Cup of Fraud," IRS Chief Says." CNN. 28 May 2015. Web. 30 May 2015.http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/27/football/fifa-corruption-charges-justice-department/index.html

 
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