Last week the Swiss Police raided the world governing body of football, FIFA’s annual general meeting to arrest several official to process them for extradition to the US where they await corruption related charges.
The officials, fourteen at the time of writing these, will face charges thrown by an FBI investigation of corruption in the sport administration stretching over two decades.
A lot of ink has been spent on documenting the rot in the Zurich headquartered body not least of all the books “Foul: The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals” by Andrew Jennings and “How They Stole The Game” by David Yallop.
What comes out in these books and is likely to get a lot of play if these officials cases go to trial, is how FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has run the organisation like a personal fiefdom.
Blatter, during his 17 year tenure has concentrated power in his own hands by isolating his rivals, shielded his cronies from unwanted scrutiny, dished out billions of dollars to sustain himself in power and looked the other way as the corruption became institutionalised in the body that runs the most popular sport in the world.
There is not enough page to list the litany of sins committed by Blatter and his cronies, but I like such stories because it shows one, corruption is not the sole preserve of the African or third world elite, two that it would not take place without the acquiesce of powerful external forces who, had they acted would have nipped the whole racket in the bud and finally that corruption has a basic framework on which it operates...
Using FIFA as the template here is a rough and ready guide to understanding why corruption happens and why it thrives.
1. Narrow the lines of accountability
In the almost two decades of his rule Blatter has reduced decision making power to a small clique within the executive committee, which is the apex body of the game. This small inner circle makes decisions on where the World Cup will be held every four years, pocketing millions of dollars from intending candidates. This racket culminated in Qatar, not known for its soccer on or off the pitch, winning the bid for the 2022 games and throwing up the uncomfortable proposition of the first winter World Cup, because it’s too hot to play in the sun of the Qatari desert in the middle of summer.
2. Throw crumbs to the masses to ensure they remain onside
Whereas it is supposed to be a federation of the world football association the delegates are only good for their vote, which Blatter handily buys off by sponsoring dubious sport development projects, for which local officials around the world are not held accountable. Any attempts by local authorities to look into their respective football associations books is followed by a threat of suspension for the country from world football from Zurich.
3. Link up with other corrupt networks
Birds of a feather flock together but FIFA has gone one step further developing these corrupt networks as described above. Football associations the world over are the paragons of corruption, since they are untouchable by local authorities and Zurich lets them operate unmolested. This hands off approach is the repaid in votes for Blatter.
In addition because of how lucrative it is to be associated with FIFA events, especially the World Cup, even the world’s most respected brands have been forced to get their hands dirty to stay in Blatter’s good books.
4. Bad things happen because good men keep quiet
But it’s not as if Blatter has taken us by surprise. This concentration of power and institutionalisation of corruption has been creeping on us slowly but surely. A few “good men” have spoken (it’s hard to remain clean when you have come into contact with FIFA’s evil vortex) and they have paid for it with banishment, ridicule and ruin. This has been enough to dissuade other men from coming forward with what they know.
5. Control the purse strings
And obviously you have to control the purse strings. FIFA reports that they earned $5.7b in the last four year period leading up to last year’s World Cub. We will have to take their word for it. They do not disclose their books to the public. This money, or many multiples of what they have declared, is deployed to oil the machine and pad chosen official’s nest eggs.
Blatter has it good. He seats at the helm of a sport whose popularity grows with every match played, while he controls the ultimate power and is accountable to no one. If it were some other business it would have crumbled a long time ago.
FIFA has to be the tyrants’ dream scenario.