The Power of Football or FIFA? | OP-ED
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It is inevitable to refer these days to the World Cup being held in Qatar, an event followed by hundreds of millions of people in the five continents. It has been so for decades, becoming the most watched tournament, above the Olympic Games.
For many years, the power of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) has been above countries, to the point that it punishes countries where local federations are intervened by governments. It has more members than the United Nations, sets the conditions and enforces them. It has the luxury of paralyzing the planet for a month of matches between the best teams, and the television ratings soar.
At the bottom of it all is a multimillion-dollar business involving multinationals and, of course, FIFA’s directors, who came to believe that they had a free hand to do whatever they wanted without being audited by any authority.
That is what they believed until the U.S. justice uncovered a scandal that exposed irregularities, with bribes to award World Cup venues. Irregularities were revealed in the awarding of World Cup venues such as those of South Africa 2010, Russia 2018 and the one being played in Qatar. It happened with the World Cup in Argentina, in 1978, in the midst of a military dictatorship that had a torture center a few meters from where the final was played. Nothing different from the Berlin Olympics in 1936, organized by Hitler’s Nazi regime.
At the end of May 2015, in Zurich, Switzerland, the Swiss police arrested seven FIFA executives in a hotel at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice. Almost simultaneously, a Brooklyn court disclosed that 14 soccer executives had been charged for money laundering in the payment and collection of bribes of 150 million dollars.
It was a blow to the head of the organization. One more of the accusations in local tournaments affected by shady business or by the support of resources coming from illegal businesses such as drug trafficking. This was the situation in the eighties in Colombia, where many of the teams were owned by drug lords, such as Pablo Escobar and the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers.
In the case of Qatar, the World Cup is being played amid millionaire businesses of brands that sponsor it, directly or indirectly. But with criticism of the host country for human rights violations, or of FIFA itself, which had the inanity to threaten to suspend soccer players who demonstrate in favor of diversity and inclusion by wearing a rainbow armband representing the LGBTI community.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to Qatar these days, among other things, to learn about the organization and take notes for the World Cup to be held in four years in cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. He referred to this restriction, of which he said “It is always worrying [...] when the expression is in favor of diversity and inclusion”.
It is worrying when several of FIFA’s “former bosses” are under investigation or in prison, but it seems that those who have remained maintain the position of commanding over any rule because the organization is all-powerful.
In contrast, soccer fans don’t care about this and prefer to watch the ball roll and celebrate goals. Soccer is above FIFA.