Editor’s note: This is the 2nd piece for The Shin Guardian from Joshua Wells. Josh is broadly looking at the administrative side of soccer from legality through business practice here at TSG
Over the course of history, repressive governments tend to have common characteristics that define their operations and their impact on the world. If I asked you to list them, you could probably tick most of them off in short order.
One-party rule, a closed judicial system that metes out punishment without public explanation, the taking or use of private property without compensation, reliance on tradition, religion and nationalism to cow the public, suppression of the press, and the concentration of power in one man or small group of men are all common elements of a repressive regime.
It does not take Inspectors Lewis and Hathaway (yes, I’m a BBC dork, and I’m betting many of you are as well) to winnow out why every repressive government bears these characteristics. All governments, in some form or fashion, represent the rule of the few over the many. By the same token, if the many unite and oppose the few, then regime change will most certainly happen. The key to getting the many to unite is a shared knowledge of injustice and the potential for correcting it. This is why repressive regimes go to such great lengths to isolate and alienate their citizens from the outside world.
In many ways, FIFA is just such an organization.
FIFA was founded on May 21, 1904 following a match played in Paris between France and Belgium. The first members of the organization were France, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Denmark, with Germany joining almost immediately thereafter. The goal was to provide an organizational body to oversee international competition between the various Football Associations that had sprung up all across Europe based on the British model and rules established in 1863.
From practically any perspective, FIFA is a unique organization in the world of sport, but especially to those of us who grew up in the United States’ tradition of sport. FIFA does not so much oversee the organization of football, as it controls, or attempts to control, every aspect of it on a global scale. FIFA has had this goal in mind since its inception. For example, in 1905, a group of English footballers named themselves the English Ramblers and decided to tour the continent playing matches against European teams. FIFA put its collective foot down, banning any teams associated with its member associations from playing matches against the Ramblers.
From that day forward, FIFA has dominated the sport of football, ostensibly governing every level of the game, from the World Cup down to the Blue Square Premier League and beyond. It controls the rules, the equipment, and even who is allowed to coach the sport. FIFA is not so much a champion of the sport of football, as much as it is a champion of FIFA football.
The sun that holds the footballing universe in orbit is the World Cup. It is at one and the same, a reward for those who are friendly to FIFA and a cudgel with which to beat those who challenge it. In a repressive regime, the military typically acts as both a symbol of pride and achievement, as well as a reminder to those who would oppose the regime of the might of those who wield power. If you have ever seen pictures of a 1950’s May Day parade in the old Soviet Union, you know exactly what I am talking about. Even as an American, I cannot help but feel a tinge of awe at the demonstration of human achievement and organization as I look at those missiles, tanks and soldiers in neat infinite rows, while at the same time knowing what that military might truly represented. The World Cup is FIFA’s military might, and until its power is somehow restrained, no meaningful change can ever take place at FIFA. As long as Sepp Blatter and his cronies control the sport through this event, corruption will reign supreme.
For this reason, I am watching with extreme interest the recent events taking place in regard to 2014 World Cup scheduled to be held in Brazil. Brazil currently has leverage over FIFA that no other nation has held so far as I know, and will likely never have again.
Early in FIFA’s history, the awarding of World Cups was highly controversial because of the difficulty of travel. The two continental pillars of world football, South America and Europe, were a three week journey by boat apart, causing massive logistical headaches. The first World Cup held in 1930 took place in Uruguay and was only attended by four European nations. The 1934 World Cup was held in Europe. When it was decided that the 1938 World Cup would also be held in Europe, the South American nations were incensed as they had been led to believe that the tournament would rotate between continents. As a result, both Argentina and Uruguay boycotted the 1938 tournament.
Following World War II, FIFA implemented a pattern of alternation between the Americas and Europe which lasted until the 2002 World Cup. Beginning with the 2004 World Cup, FIFA announced a plan to rotate the tournament between continents, with South America’s World Cup falling in 2014. The 2014 World Cup is the last that will be subject to the rotation policy, with future World Cups being doled out to whoever can secretly pass FIFA committee members the largest stacks of unmarked bills (I’m joking…sort of).
Initially, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil all showed interest in hosting the 2014 tournament, but Colombia bowed out early while Chile and Argentina left the bidding after FIFA decided to disallow joint bids between nations. Brazil was the proverbial last man standing, and the World Cup was awarded by default.
FIFA would have you believe that the World Cup is an engine for positive change wherever it is held.
While the truth of that sentiment can be debated, FIFA does very literally change everything about where the World Cup is held. Even better, the full scale of the concessions required from a government hosting the World Cup is supposed to be kept secret from the public. When a BBC reporter asked a representative for England’s 2018 World Cup bid what concessions FIFA required, the response given was, “I’m not able to tell you. FIFA requires it [the technical bid documents] to remain confidential.” The representative went on to say, “It is not a selective confidentiality.” In other words, the veil of secrecy applies to all concessions required by FIFA for hosting a World Cup, including those which apply to visas, security, currency, commercial rights, and broadcasting.
When asked a similar question, Gerry Sutcliffe, England’s former sports minister stated, “FIFA require that details of the guarantees not be made public,” before stating, “If I did that it would damage the bid and I am not prepared to do that.”
While the English would not reveal FIFA’s demands, through a little internet digging I was able to uncover the eight “governmental guarantees” FIFA requires World Cup host nations to secretly pledge before a bid is awarded. The guarantees fell into eight categories: (1) Visa and Entry Procedures; (2) Work Permits; (3) Tax Exemption; (4) Safety and Security; (5) Bank and Foreign Exchange Operations; (6) Protection and Exploitation of Commercial Rights; (7) Telecommunication, Information Technology; and (8) Legal Issues and Indemnifications.
Some of the issues the guarantees address are perfectly reasonable and necessary for the purpose of holding an international tournament. For example, it is reasonable for some exemptions to be made for visas and work permits so that players and other personnel can gain entry into the host nation and participate in the tournament. On the other hand, some of FIFA’s demands are stunning in scope.
For example, FIFA requires full tax exemption for itself, any of its subsidiary organizations, service providers, broadcasters, employees of FIFA, employees of FIFA member associations, and independent contractors hired by FIFA. In other words, FIFA is a huge black hole for a host government in economic terms. When FIFA comes to town, it will certainly spend and be paid hundreds of millions of dollars, but not a dime of it will find its way into local or national government pockets to defray the costs of building new stadiums, transportation systems, infrastructure, or pay additional security (which is also required by FIFA) and waste disposal personnel.
FIFA further requires that a host nation enact what are essentially new laws to protect its corporate partners. For example, the registration of domain names containing FIFA trademarks must be banned by law. Marketing by non-FIFA partners in public areas related to the World Cup must be banned. In fact, advertising by non-FIFA corporate entities must be banned from within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of all stadia or site hosting World Cup events. All public viewings not held by FIFA must be banned. The use of World Cup related tickets as promotional items must be banned. In addition, FIFA requires that the legal procedures addressing these issues be expedited. In other words, not only does the host nation have to change its laws for FIFA, but it must change how and when it enforces its laws for FIFA.
Lastly, a host nation must agree to indemnify FIFA for any liability that accrues to it through the implementation and enforcement of the guarantees. In other words, FIFA gets a get out of jail free card if the governmental guarantees it requires from a host nation infringe upon the legal rights of any individual or corporate entity.
FIFA’s demands have caused an uproar in Brazil. Because FIFA has committed itself to holding the tournament in South America, and because it is the only nation willing and able to host the tournament in South America, Brazil finds itself in a unique position to challenge FIFA’s comprehensive intrusions into Brazilian law. In addition, Brazil holds a unique place in FIFA as one of its most decorated and powerful associations.
A bill is currently before the Brazilian Congress which would grant the governmental guarantees that FIFA requires from host nations, but some of Brazil’s politicians are bucking FIFA’s yoke. Leading the charge is none other than the formerly brilliant Brazilian striker Romario, who is now a congressman. Speaking out against the bill, Romario was quoted as saying, “If FIFA is not put in its rightful place it will soon have more power than our president.” He went even further on his Twitter account stating, “Brazil needs to stop this business of becoming a slave to FIFA. The sovereignty of the country must be respected.”
In contention are several issues. Brazilian law requires half-priced tickets to public events be made available for senior citizens and students. Some Brazilian states also ban the sale of alcoholic beverages at sporting events. In addition, Brazil does not want to change its laws regarding the punishment of individuals guilty of infringing copyrighted materials or merchandise. So far, FIFA has been uncompromising on any of these issues, and there have been rumors, denied publicly, that FIFA has threatened to take away the 2014 World Cup from Brazil.
With consistent delays and costs spiraling out of control for preparations, the 2014 World Cup and FIFA are increasingly becoming unpopular amongst Brazil’s massive population, making it a major political issue. This is true especially among the poor as stories emerge of favelas being destroyed to build stadia and infrastructure. Urban transportation projects which were to be part of the World Cup preparations, and would most benefit the average Brazilian citizen, have been cut or curtailed due to rising costs only adding heat to the simmering anger of the populace.
The entire World Cup preparations have been seen as a failure in Brazil. It probably does not help that the Brazilian FA’s president, Ricardo Teixeira, is under a criminal investigation for money laundering. Find me a FIFA member that is not run by a crook and I’ll…well, you can fill in the blanks with your own jokes.
All the pieces seem to be in place for Brazil to strike a blow against FIFA and its military might, the World Cup. Whether Romario can spearhead the attack in politics as well as he did on the 1994 World Cup remains to be seen, but for those of us who care about corruption in the beautiful game, this is an important story to remain apprised of.
More from Wells at TSG