Much to His Chagrin
By Michael Shagrin, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, February 1, 2013
Much to my chagrin, I’ve been unable to fulfill my simple, lone desire regarding the 2022 FIFA World Cup — that is, ignoring its existence entirely until 2022.
Let’s go on a trip through time and space back to Dec. 2, 2010, when the 22-member FIFA executive committee met in Zurich to select host nations for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. With soccer-obsessed England in play for 2018 and the United States as the favorite for 2022, the results of both votes shocked the world by favoring not one, but two authoritarian regimes — Russia and Qatar, respectively. While Russia’s victory over the United Kingdom should have been a red flag to Americans, soccer fans and insiders alike were astonished when the oil-rich Gulf nation steamrolled the Americans like it was Desert Storm.
It became apparent that arranging for these highly-independent decisions to be made consecutively would encourage horse-trading among world soccer’s notoriously corrupt governing bodies. Multiple executive committee members have been expelled from soccer related activities for life as a result of such quid pro quos.
Although the U.S. did not secure the privilege of hosting the 2022 World Cup, the executive committee’s conspicuous snub has persisted as a vehicle for discussing FIFA’s scandalous internal machinations. This week, the prominent French soccer magazine France Football ran a 15-page cover story titled — not kidding here — “Le Qatargate.” Unable to ignore the chorus of bribery claims building up over the last two years, FIFA’s nominally independent ethics committee opened up an investigation into the charges. However, nobody expects any meaningful reform to the process that fomented the illicit behavior.
As the theatrics unfold like they have many times before, accusations will continually abound among FIFA executives, regional soccer officials and run of the mill politicians. But one thing remains certain: FIFA and its president, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, will emerge unscathed. If there is a lesson to be learned from the heavy-handed politicking of soccer’s world governing body, it is that ignoring justice is easy when paired with absolute power. Moreover, taking the lid off one scandal can swiftly uncork another because the foundation of FIFA’s power is built on informal, corrupt relationships.
Take Le Qatargate. The shadow cast on Qatar’s selection as a World Cup host nation was extended when the nation’s top international soccer official and head of the Asian Confederation of Football, Mohamed bin Hammam, decided to challenge Blatter for FIFA’s presidency. As bin Hammam should have figured out, autocrats generally do not appreciate objections to their authority. It was not much of a surprise, then, that bin Hammam was forced to drop out of the race after allegations surfaced that he had attempted to buy the election with $40,000 bribes. Blatter ultimately ran unopposed.
Even though these are two distinct scandals, Blatter was forced to discuss both at the press conference announcing bin Hammam’s banishment from the soccer world. Journalists pressed Blatter on the political motivations behind the bin Hammam investigation, but the embattled FIFA president easily parried the questions by speaking broadly about the integrity of international soccer. However, there was one line of explosive questions regarding top FIFA official, Jerome Valke, that he could not easily diffuse.
Valke committed what has quickly become the most embarrassing form of public relations criminality: documenting offenses via email. The correspondence referred to the Qataris as having “bought” the right to host the World Cup in 2022 and, while Valke has since distanced himself from the email, the disclosure naturally fanned the flames of FIFA critics. When confronted with this damning piece of evidence at the aforementioned press conference, Blatter invoked the prototypical despotic response: “I am the President of FIFA, you cannot question me.”
The long and short of it is that Americans should not expect justice or even an apology. As we are faced with mounting evidence of illicit dealings, FIFA will surely be shocked to find that bribery is going on in international soccer. But nobody beyond the president has enough power to the reform international soccer’s governing regime, and the president will never have an incentive to amend the despotic practices from which he benefits.